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.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Lifeway Baptist Church


Today we worshiped at Lifeway Baptist Church, Physical Address: 20630 Route 19, Suite 102, Cranberry Township, PA 16066, Mailing Address: P.O. Box 2551, Cranberry Township, PA 16066, 724.591.0625, www.lifewaybc.com, Pastor Nathan Snode.





Scripture – KJV



Ezekiel 31 –



And it came to pass in the eleventh year, in the third month, in the first day of the month, that the word of the Lord came unto me, saying,



Son of man, speak unto Pharaoh king of Egypt, and to his multitude; Whom art thou like in thy greatness?



Behold, the Assyrian was a cedar in Lebanon with fair branches, and with a shadowing shroud, and of an high stature; and his top was among the thick boughs.



The waters made him great, the deep set him up on high with her rivers running round about his plants, and sent out her little rivers unto all the trees of the field.



Therefore his height was exalted above all the trees of the field, and his boughs were multiplied, and his branches became long because of the multitude of waters, when he shot forth.



All the fowls of heaven made their nests in his boughs, and under his branches did all the beasts of the field bring forth their young, and under his shadow dwelt all great nations.



Thus was he fair in his greatness, in the length of his branches: for his root was by great waters.



The cedars in the garden of God could not hide him: the fir trees were not like his boughs, and the chesnut trees were not like his branches; nor any tree in the garden of God was like unto him in his beauty.



I have made him fair by the multitude of his branches: so that all the trees of Eden, that were in the garden of God, envied him.



Therefore thus saith the Lord God; Because thou hast lifted up thyself in height, and he hath shot up his top among the thick boughs, and his heart is lifted up in his height;



I have therefore delivered him into the hand of the mighty one of the heathen; he shall surely deal with him: I have driven him out for his wickedness.



And strangers, the terrible of the nations, have cut him off, and have left him: upon the mountains and in all the valleys his branches are fallen, and his boughs are broken by all the rivers of the land; and all the people of the earth are gone down from his shadow, and have left him.



Upon his ruin shall all the fowls of the heaven remain, and all the beasts of the field shall be upon his branches:



To the end that none of all the trees by the waters exalt themselves for their height, neither shoot up their top among the thick boughs, neither their trees stand up in their height, all that drink water: for they are all delivered unto death, to the nether parts of the earth, in the midst of the children of men, with them that go down to the pit.



Thus saith the Lord God; In the day when he went down to the grave I caused a mourning: I covered the deep for him, and I restrained the floods thereof, and the great waters were stayed: and I caused Lebanon to mourn for him, and all the trees of the field fainted for him.



I made the nations to shake at the sound of his fall, when I cast him down to hell with them that descend into the pit: and all the trees of Eden, the choice and best of Lebanon, all that drink water, shall be comforted in the nether parts of the earth.



They also went down into hell with him unto them that be slain with the sword; and they that were his arm, that dwelt under his shadow in the midst of the heathen.



To whom art thou thus like in glory and in greatness among the trees of Eden? yet shalt thou be brought down with the trees of Eden unto the nether parts of the earth: thou shalt lie in the midst of the uncircumcised with them that be slain by the sword. This is Pharaoh and all his multitude, saith the Lord God.”





Bob’s thoughts:



We were warmly welcomed. The only cross I could find was on the flag staff, though I hope there were others.



The pastor opened the service with a prayer for God’s Presence, which I found refreshing.



The church is raising a large sum, though God has not told them for what. Last week’s offering, except for the monies designated for mission, was put entirely toward this fund. They have almost reached their goal and are looking forward to God’s direction…an obedient congregation of His Church.



The volume was good and I could hear most of the service from the back.



Space is limited and God is growing this church. They have been blessed to avoid the encumbrance of a building but are feeling growing pains. This facility could benefit by signage.



A member who had gone on mission trips to South America made a presentation about how God had blessed their efforts. I wish we could have talked to him after the service.



I was impressed with the mission numbers of this small church.



I believe the sermon, “A Cedar in Lebanon,” was explained well to the congregation with ample Scripture references. The gathering was attentive and I observed a number taking notes.



I think we both sensed Christ delivering a personal message for us through this pastor.





Jan’s thoughts:



We have driven by this storefront church countless times, and today we chose to attend worship.



We arrived during the Sunday School hour, and the adult class was in the worship area so we waited in the foyer while we listened.



The decorations provided an appealing ambience, and I appreciated the imaginative embellishments.



Many people greeted us warmly and introduced themselves before, during, and after worship, and I appreciated the coffee beforehand.



Singing was led by the pastor, who was accompanied only by the piano.



Judging by the Offering Report in the worship folder, I this church takes its Mission offering seriously. They budget a weekly amount, give more than that on average, and last week gave approximately 50% more. They are taking part in a Missions Conference at the end of this month and one member spoke at length about his missions experiences and how they impacted his life. It was a powerful personal testimony.



I was touched by the humility of the pastor’s prayer before he began the message, which was entitled “A Cedar in Lebanon” and focused on the issue of pride. He urged the congregation to stay close to the Word of God and work to avoid allowing pride to gain a foothold in our mind and heart. He advised us to remember that God will not bless a prideful person, and He can humble a person in the blink of an eye.



He summarized with four points:

1 – Stay close to the Source;

2 – Don’t compare yourself with others;

3 – Don’t take credit for what God has done;

4 – Humble yourself or God will humble you.



We appreciated our conversation with the pastor following worship.





Our prayer for this church:

Father, we pray Your continued blessings on this church, that You bless each of them individually and corporately, and that You guide and direct their every effort. Amen.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Baden United Methodist Church


Today we worshiped at Baden United Methodist Church, 420 Dippold Avenue, Baden, PA 15005, 724.869.2720, www.badenumc.org, Rev. James Young, Pastor.





Scripture – NIV



Psalm 19:7-10 –



The law of the LORD is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The decrees of the LORD are firm, and all of them are righteous.



They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb.



James 1:22-25 –



Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.



Matthew 7:24-27 –



“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”





Bob’s thoughts:



We were looking to worship today where we could participate in World Communion Sunday. To me, it was special to partake of the elements in front of an impressive cross. The large wooden beams of the arched ceiling gave a dome-like effect. There are lovely fall banners and striking, brightly colored glass windows. There is a wholesome age mix, a good sign of a healthy church.



We were greeted by a few people nearby in the pews and by one woman before the service who intentionally stopped to welcome us.



The praise team sounded wonderful; I especially appreciated the lead female voice. There must have been a mic problem with the Scripture reading, but the best font size on the screens I’ve ever seen, and from the very back pew. I think the facility would benefit from a new look at signage. I was happy with the time allotted for personal prayer and confession.



Everyone had to have loved the children’s choir presentation, it was a joy.



The message started with photos depicting a perspective of the earth to the sun and then outward into the universe with each entity spinning in their own right. When the pastor asked what the one constant was, I’m sure he didn’t hear the child near us answer “God,” but there is someone teaching their children well.



A line I liked had to do with our lives being built on top of the Rock, the Word of God. The sermon ended with two points: God is holy and God is love.



The congregation seemed attentive to the pastor’s message.



We were grateful to have had a few minutes to talk to the pastor after the service and the privilege to lay hands and pray for him. I wish we could have served him Communion.





Jan’s thoughts:



Because today is World Communion Sunday, we decided to attend a more traditional church where we knew the occasion would be celebrated. It has been almost 8 years since our last visit here.



The sanctuary is lovely, with intensely colorful and unique stained glass-effect windows and banners down both side walls. The sun shone through the windows and all I could see were colors. The front wall had a gold-colored, filigree-type ironwork backlit in green with a gold-colored cross hung in front of it and the traditional wooden pews were set at a bit of an angle.



The only person I had trouble hearing for some reason was the liturgist. And hearing the children sing is always a joy.



The two screens used to display the song lyrics were mounted high and the font was the largest I’ve ever seen, so even from the very back pew, it was easy to see and follow.



The untitled sermon focused on God’s unchanging nature. The pastor emphasized two major points: God is holy, He has the right to be Master and Judge; and God is love and condescends to be our Friend and Companion. When God sent Jesus, it served to both satisfy His holiness and show His infinite love. This is the centerpiece of our faith.



Communion was celebrated as several rows at a time went forward and kneeled at the rail where a small bowl contained the bread and the juice was in individual cups sitting in cutouts on top of the rail.





Our prayer for this church:

Lord, we pray for Your continued guidance for this church, thanking You for the blessings You have poured out. Please encourage them and grow their faith, let the joy of serving You increase. Amen.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Christ Church at Grove Farm


Today we worshiped at Christ Church at Grove Farm, 249 Duff Road, Sewickley, PA 15143, 412.741.4900, www.ccgf.org, Rev. Dr. Jared Ott, Rector/Senior Pastor.





Scripture –



1 Corinthians 12:12-20 –



Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.



Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.



Ephesians 4:3-6 –



Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.



Hebrews 12:1-2 –



Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.



Matthew 25:14-30 –



“Again, it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted his wealth to them. To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.



“After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’



“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’



“The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’



“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’



“Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’



“His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest. “ 



‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’



1 Peter 4:10 –



Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.





Bob’s thoughts:



What a joy to come to worship and see a large wooden cross suspended over the platform.



We were welcomed by the greeters at the door and again when I went out for my earplugs although it seemed like I only needed them for the first song. I appreciated that the music didn’t drown out the prayer and prayers for the storm victims and military.



The church has good signage, making it easy to find my way.



I felt the church missed a great opportunity: with the carpets removed they should have given the children large quantities of sidewalk chalk and see what God would lead them to.



I enjoyed the story of a youth group whose members were given a penny and instructed to bring back what they could trade it for. I can only wonder what mine would have brought back.



A great thought: the church is a living organism. He talked about the Scripture and if we were just a body part, and I thought if we were all just a big ear, we still wouldn’t hear the Word.



Much of the message was about how we can serve God’s Church. I have filled many roles over the years and one of my favorites was helping babies become comfortable going to the nursery during church. Some were happy the first day whereas others took weeks. Once they were part of the nursery, I wasn’t needed any more, but it was a rewarding little ministry.



I learned today that a friend volunteered at this church as a greeter. He knows that members are always happy to be greeted; the real value is in greeting those you don’t know.



Early in my walk with Christ, I became a greeter. I always had trouble remembering names, but I carried a small notebook and would mark down things I learned about our visitors so even when I couldn’t remember their name, I could comment on something I had a note about. If you ask about their parents who were married in the church 50 years ago, there is no doubt in their minds that you remember them well. Our small church had 40 people join the year I did that. They commented that no one spoke to them at the other churches they visited.



Don’t waste the gifts God gave you…there is a place where your talents are needed.



I appreciated the harmony of the praise team and enjoyed the female solo.



A highlight was watching a toddler dancing in his mom’s arms and then hug her neck.



We appreciated the chance to speak with two of the pastors.





Jan’s thoughts:



It has only been just over a year since our last visit here, but we felt led, so we went.



There is some major remodeling going on in the reception area and it looked bare, including concrete floors, so we’ll have to visit again to see it finished.



We were welcomed by a few people, but at a church this size with three services per week, I don’t know how they could possibly keep track of visitors.



The music was excellent; it started out loud but did become softer. The excellent voices blended well. I appreciated the solo during the offering: a female vocalist accompanied only by a piano, and it was exceptional.



The message was part four of a five-part series called “Are You Connected?” Entitled “Connected in the Core,” it emphasized God’s call to use our individual gifts and talents for the good of others and of Christ’s Church. He reminded the congregation that God knew what He was doing when He created each person with a different set of talents, and that each person’s call is as individual as they are.



He told a personal story from when he first began in ministry and his journey of discernment to find his own preaching style. I have listened to sermons by Rev. Ott, but this was the first time I’ve heard him preach during worship, and I would say his style is relaxed, genuine, and knowledgeable.



He ended the message with a touching poem called “Searching For a Vessel”, which I will reprint since the author is unknown.



The Master was searching for a vessel to use;
On the shelf there were many—which one would He choose?
Take me, cried the gold one, I’m shiny and bright,
I’m of great value and I do things just right.
My beauty and luster will outshine the rest
And for someone like You, Master, gold would be the best!



Unheeding, the Master passed on to the brass,
It was wide mouthed and shallow, and polished like glass.
Here! Here! cried the vessel, I know I will do,
Place me on Your table for all men to view.



Look at me, called the goblet of crystal so clear,
My transparency shows my contents so dear,
Though fragile am I, I will serve You with pride,
And I’m sure I’ll be happy Your house to abide.



The Master came next to a vessel of wood,
Polished and carved, it solidly stood.
You may use me, dear Master, the wooden bowl said,
But I’d rather You used me for fruit, not for bread!



Then the Master looked down and saw a vessel of clay.
Empty and broken it helplessly lay.
No hope had the vessel that the Master might choose,
To cleanse and make whole, to fill and to use.



Ah! This is the vessel I’ve been hoping to find,
I will mend and use it and make it all Mine.



I need not the vessel with pride of itself;
Nor the one who is narrow to sit on the shelf;
Nor the one who is big-mouthed and shallow and loud;
Nor one who displays his contents so proud;
Not the one who thinks he can do all things just right;
But this plain earthy vessel filled with My power and might.



Then gently He lifted the vessel of clay.
Mended and cleansed it and filled it that day.
Spoke to it kindly. “There’s work you must do,
Just pour out to others as I pour into you.”—Author Unknown





Our prayer for this church:

Lord, we pray You will open the eyes of Your Church to the opportunities to serve and glorify You. Amen.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

New Hope Evangelical Lutheran Church


Today we worshiped at New Hope Evangelical Lutheran Church, 200 2nd Avenue, Freedom, PA 15042, 724.869.1187, www.newhopelutheranchurch.com, Rev. Martin J. Galbraith, Pastor.





Scripture –



Genesis 50:15-21 –



When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept.



His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said.



But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.



Psalm 103:1-13 –



Praise the LORD, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the LORD, my soul, and forget not all his benefits— who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.



The LORD works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.



He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel: The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.



As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;



Romans 14:1-12 –



Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.



One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.



You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written:



“ ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.’ ”



So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.



Matthew 18:21-35 –



Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”



Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.



“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.



“At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.



“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.



“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’



“But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.



“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.



“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”





Bob’s thoughts:



We were warmly welcomed before the service, during the passing of Christ’s peace, and after worship. Some who talked to us as we entered stopped by after the service as well. Not a large complex but minimal signage that I noticed.



There is an exceptional carved wooden cross that includes the Communion elements. The wood paneling on the rear chancel wall is diagonal, highlighting the cross. The ceiling is a high arch with wood paneling worked well to draw focus to the cross. Some excellent banners adorn the sanctuary walls.



The children’s message was about Joseph forgiving his brothers, and the pastor told a personal story of forgiving a brother. This brought to mind a memory of mine: when I was walking with my brother to a birthday party and we were extremely angry with each other over some “unforgivable” sin. As we were walking up the hill through the woods to our friend’s house, a neighbor lady who was watching from her bay window perch exclaimed something about “brotherly love.” In that instant, we forgave each other and our anger was redirected to her. But we did forgive each other.



I was delighted that the children stayed for the service and found their smiles most welcoming.



The message started from Christ’s admonishment to Peter to forgive 77 times after Peter asked if seven was a limit. The pastor had a skillful explanation of numbers in Christ’s time on Earth: three, seven, and 40 were frequently numbers signifying completeness and a myriad was equivalent to our google (one with 100 zeros)…numbers so large it was beyond comprehension there could be a need for anything more.



Compared with the piano, the volume of the organ made it hard to keep track of where we were in the songs; it might be easier to hear when more people were singing.



We were grateful the pastor could spend so much time with us after the service.





Jan’s thoughts:



We were greeted warmly upon entering this pretty building and found seats five minutes before the service started. As the greeters realized we were first-time visitors, they handed us the bulletin and worship folder and briefly explained the service. Others welcomed us prior to worship and still others afterward.



The sanctuary is pleasant, with an unusual cross in the front and colorful banners on each wall. The high ceiling provided something of an echo, but I was still able to understand spoken words and music.



The pastor used his time with the children as a lead-in to the sermon, giving them an example from his childhood of how natural it is to find siblings annoying. Even the youth seemed to identify.



The untitled sermon was about forgiveness. The pastor began by considering how often our society would say we should forgive others, and estimated it at exactly zero. He stated that, in fact, many would be proud of their unforgiving attitudes. I wish I could argue that, but, unfortunately, I must agree.



He then entered a contemplation of the number of times one person should forgive another. In Jesus’ time, rabbis taught forgiveness should be extended as many as three times. However, seven was one of the numbers of completeness, so when Jesus was asked this question, He indicated 70 times 7 to denote the ultimate number of completion.



The pastor also spoke to the amounts and time periods in the parable of the unmerciful servant, stating one talent equaled 15 years of work, so the first servant owed his master 150,000 years of work. How obvious he would never be able to repay his master.



I am very far from being a number person, but somehow this numerical explanation made clear the magnitude of the debt we owe our Master but will never be able to repay and the degree of the wrong we do when we refuse to forgive someone who has wronged us.



As the pastor said, we owe God “complete completeness.”



Several members were kind enough to invite us to the fellowship time, but the pastor generously spent a good while with us in conversation, so we did not make it.





Our prayer for this church:

Lord, Your church seems in a good location to minister to the lost sheep of this community, and we pray You bless their efforts. Amen.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Fellowship Baptist Church

Today we worshiped at Fellowship Baptist Church, 3151 Conway Wallrose Road, Baden, PA 15005, 724.266.1922, www.fbcoe.org, Rev. Bob Harrison, Jr., Pastor.


Scripture – KJV

John 19:1-5 –

Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged him.

And the soldiers platted a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and they put on him a purple robe,

And said, Hail, King of the Jews! and they smote him with their hands.

Pilate therefore went forth again, and saith unto them, Behold, I bring him forth to you, that ye may know that I find no fault in him.

Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, Behold the man!

Mark 15:15-20 –

And so Pilate, willing to content the people, released Barabbas unto them, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified.

And the soldiers led him away into the hall, called Praetorium; and they call together the whole band.

And they clothed him with purple, and platted a crown of thorns, and put it about his head,

And began to salute him, Hail, King of the Jews!

And they smote him on the head with a reed, and did spit upon him, and bowing their knees worshipped him.

And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple from him, and put his own clothes on him, and led him out to crucify him.

Hebrews 2:9-10 –

But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man.

For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.

1 Peter 2:21-23 –

For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps:

Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth:

Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously:

Isaiah 53:3-5 –

He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.


Bob’s thoughts:

We were warmly welcomed at the door by an Army vet whose father was a Marine vet who fought on Iwo. When he told his father’s story and detailed his war wounds, I wanted to say that we Marines seem to acquire extra holes in our bodies. He guided us to the sanctuary where he introduced us to the pastor.

I was disappointed that the only cross I could find was on a flag staff. The church is in a former elementary school and I’m sorry I didn’t get to ask how the rest of the building is used.

The pastor did an excellent job with a solo rendition of a hymn. I don’t think I was familiar with any of the hymns today.

The sermon title, “Pilate Illegally Mistreats Jesus” was misleading: Pilate tried to “save” Christ from His calling. It’s hard now to discern Pilate’s motives, but he did not want to accept his role in Christ’s death.

The pastor showed photos of Christ’s path to the Cross and used Scripture to support his message. He believes Christ was scourged twice and made good argument to support this.

I found it interesting that just this morning I read a post from a Marine who was questioning how a pastor of a megachurch needs armed guards when they come down off the stage to meet parishioners. In rebuttal to his statement, someone accused him of not having his facts right that the Roman government killed Christ. He was quick to correct them, that it was the church, not the Roman government, that killed Christ. Pilate tried everything to keep from being used.

I was thankful we got to talk to the pastor and his wife after the service.


Jan’s thoughts:

Today we learned the reason this church building looks more like a school: that’s the function this building served in the past.

We were greeted by a man who told us about how the church came to be located here and about his father, a survivor of the Battle of Iwo Jima. Bob was introduced to another Vietnam veteran while I chatted with the pastor’s wife. We were welcomed warmly by a number of folks and cordially invited to stay for the lunch following worship.

The gentleman who led the singing was accompanied by a pianist and an organist. I wished I knew any of the hymns, but I did not.

The pastor asked for a show of hands of everyone who had someone in the path of Hurricane Irma. After most hands went up, the pastor asked for a show of hands of all who believed in the effectiveness of fervent prayer. This time every hand was raised. Prayer was offered and all were encouraged to continue their faithful, fervent prayers.

The congregation was reminded that the church provides financial assistance through Operation Renewed Hope and several paths were outlined to give in this way.

The message was “Pilate Illegally Mistreats Jesus.” The pastor began by stating that Pilate planned to mistreat Jesus, parade Him in front of the Jews to appease their wrath, and then let Him go.

The pastor showed slides of the Via Dolorosa and some other architecture of the area where Jesus was tried, scourged, and mocked by the Roman soldiers. I heard for the first time the theory that Christ was scourged twice. Based on his studies, the pastor stated he believes this theory to be true though he urged the congregation to study it for themselves and arrive at their own conclusion.

He went into great detail about the scourgings, the Crown of Thorns, the mocking by the Roman soldiers, after which Pilate paraded Him to induce the sympathy of the Jews, as if to say, “Hasn’t He suffered enough?”

In verse 5, Pilate, the “unconscious prophet,” cried “Behold the man!” and we cannot help but hear in our minds, not “the man” but the Son of Man. The pastor reminded that Christ is the Man we need to see, that He suffered all this for each and every person.

He then asked one of the most vital questions, one we all need to answer for ourselves: “Will you choose to bow the knee in true humility and submission?”

It’s actually the question of our lives.


Our prayer for this church:

Lord, we pray Your continued blessings on Your church. May they grow where You have planted them. Amen.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Allison Park Church Ambridge


Today we worshiped at Allison Park Church Ambridge, 424 Duss Avenue, Ambridge, PA 15003, 412.487.722, www.allisonparkchurch.com, Campus Pastor John Holt.





Scripture – NLT



Luke 5:1-11 –

“One day as Jesus was preaching on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, great crowds pressed in on him to listen to the word of God. He noticed two empty boats at the water’s edge, for the fishermen had left them and were washing their nets. Stepping into one of the boats, Jesus asked Simon, its owner, to push it out into the water. So he sat in the boat and taught the crowds from there.



When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish.”



“Master,” Simon replied, “we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.” And this time their nets were so full of fish they began to tear! A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking.



When Simon Peter realized what had happened, he fell to his knees before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m such a sinful man.” For he was awestruck by the number of fish they had caught, as were the others with him. His partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were also amazed.



Jesus replied to Simon, “Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!” And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus.”





2 Corinthians 3:2-3 –

The only letter of recommendation we need is you yourselves. Your lives are a letter written in our hearts; everyone can read it and recognize our good work among you. Clearly, you are a letter from Christ showing the result of our ministry among you. This “letter” is written not with pen and ink, but with the Spirit of the living God. It is carved not on tablets of stone, but on human hearts.





Bob’s thoughts:



It has been a while since we last visited but I don’t remember needing earplugs then or if there was a cross. I do think I would have remembered if there was music louder than the prayers. I noticed some members writing during the message…I hope they were taking notes.



I missed some of the early greeting, but people were friendly.



Some points from the message: “We see problems, Christ sees possibilities.” A good question for the congregation: “Who needs the Good News in your sphere of influence?” Another I liked: “Obedience is a turning point.”



The pastor told a story of a parishioner who stopped to invite a couple to church; after many invitations, they came, and soon family came with them.



There was a woman who came to worship at my first long-term church. Every Sunday I tried to engage her in conversation and got nowhere…I had all but given up. One Sunday the pastor asked me if I had said hello and when I relayed her lack of past response, he urged me again. This time I was met with a joyous greeting. The pastor hadn’t mentioned that she had accepted Christ that Saturday in his office and he knew how frustrated I was from trying over the months to engage her in conversation.



Of late God has given me a joyous ministry of prayer with salespeople: I’ve gotten to seek those who seem less than cheerful. I would like to say it brings joy to their face, but more often it is tears. A simple touch or prayer is overwhelming to them, and me too. When you minister to someone, it is never only one way.





Jan’s thoughts:



Two new pastors have come on staff here since our last visit just over two years ago. It’s encouraging to see the excitement and energy here.



We arrived a couple of minutes into the service, so it was already dark. We were greeted at the door and welcomed with handshakes and hugs. We found our seats in the far back and were invited to help ourselves to coffee.



The music was well done, led by a drummer and two women vocalists, one of whom also played the keyboard. Once we were in the room, the volume was good.



I loved the wall decorations behind the platform: I only got to see them from a distance but they looked like metal tubs on the wall and each tub was lined with lights that changed color to coordinate with the background color on the screens. It sounds plain, but they were striking!



Allison Park Church and its satellites (including this one) are arranging to collect donations to help victims of Hurricane Harvey, of course. We were also treated to a preview of Senior Pastor Jeff Leake’s upcoming sermon series which will be tied in to their Life Group meetings as well.



The message was presented by Campus Pastor John Holt and was called “Let’s Go Fishing!” As he outlined the Scripture detailing Jesus’ encounter with Peter and the other fishermen, he emphasized Jesus’ ability to see the possibilities instead of their failure and His encouragement of His soon-to-be followers.



My two favorite parts: the statement that obedience is a turning point in our life story and obeying brings blessing, and that catching fish, you make them die…catching people, you make them live.



At this point, they outlined some of their innovative plans for community outreach over the next month or two, reminding the worshipers that Jesus knows where the fish are.



We appreciated the time both pastors took following worship for conversation.





Our prayer for this church:

Lord, we pray this, Your church, will be empty, that they be the church out in the neighborhood winning souls for You. Amen.