Sunday, March 26, 2017
Today we worshiped at Beaver Assembly of God, 500 Dutch Ridge Road, Beaver, PA 15050, 724.775.5217, www.beaverag.org, Rev. B. Timothy Michaux, Senior Pastor.
Scripture – NKJV
Ephesians 5:16 –
…redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
We were welcomed by quite a few people when we arrived, and offered coffee.
The sanctuary had a large rustic cross to one side and three small crosses on each window ledge. The center of the chancel was taken up with a large cross-shaped riser for a choir. The pastor explained this was for an upcoming program and would be draped with different colored cloth and lit with black lights.
The low arched ceiling is complemented by arched clear glass windows and the pews were nicely padded. I was impressed that there was sprinkler protection.
I had gone to wash something off my glasses, and when I returned I was surprised that one of the women in front of us was addressing the congregation…I’m not sure why.
The topic of the sermon was why evil exists. The pastor was quick to state that he didn’t have all the answers but did his best to cover a good deal of the subject in the time allotted. My favorite line: stop the blame game and stop taking the blame for others.
The volume for the pastor was almost painfully loud but I wasn’t sure I would be able to hear him outside the sanctuary. However, it sounded more balanced at the end as he prayed with musical accompaniment and I could hear the prayer over the instruments.
We were greeted often, offered refreshments, and enjoyed an extended conversation before being pointed in the direction of the sanctuary.
Each window of the spacious area was decorated with three crosses and in the front of the sanctuary was an inclined, cross-shaped set of risers built in preparation for a special musical event on Palm Sunday. The room was beautifully decorated with unique banners.
The music was contemporary in style, presented by a fair-sized praise band, and the volume was good for the size of the room.
As is common at churches of this denomination, following the pastor’s prayer, a member spoke aloud of word of prophecy.
I was glad we could partake of Communion again today.
The message was entitled “Why Does Evil Exist?” Unquestionably a broad topic, he touched on many aspects of this, one of humankind’s most frequently asked questions. His early points included that God is not offended or intimidated by our questions.
He gave three causes for evil:
1 – Our poor choices: he reminded that we are what our choices have made us, and evil is inbred in humans.
2 –The poor choices of others: he made a powerful statement about this, that to God, free will is more valuable than the absence of evil, and when we are wishing that God would do something, we need to remember that He did: He sent Jesus to save us.
3 – God uses our poor choices to develop us: God does not create or cause evil, but He takes advantage of the opportunity to help us grow and loosen our grip on this world.
Other points I found worth noting were that when we are in the midst of trials we tend to wonder if God is getting back at us for our failures, but nothing could be farther from the truth. We must battle against the victim mindset, remember our struggles are producing eternal benefits, and yield, surrender, and cooperate with God in what He is doing in our lives.
Truly, I believe self-pity is one of Satan’s favorite tools.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray Your church’s eyes are open to Your Presence that they may continue their service and worship of You. Amen.
Sunday, March 19, 2017
Today we worshiped at English Lutheran Church, 200 E. Grandview Avenue, Zelienople, PA 16063, 724.452.8110, www.elczelienople.org, Rev. Dr. Margarethe Galbraith-Cordes, Pastor.
Scripture – ESV
Exodus 17:1-7 –
All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, "Give us water to drink." And Moses said to them, "Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?" But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, "Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?" So Moses cried to the Lord, "What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me." And the Lord said to Moses, "Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink." And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, "Is the Lord among us or not?"
Romans 5:1-11 –
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”
John 4:5-42 –
So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob's well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.
A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink." (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?" (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water." The woman said to him, "Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock." Jesus said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water."
Jesus said to her, "Go, call your husband, and come here." The woman answered him, "I have no husband." Jesus said to her, "You are right in saying, 'I have no husband'; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true." The woman said to him, "Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship." Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." The woman said to him, "I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things." Jesus said to her, "I who speak to you am he."
Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, "What do you seek?" or, "Why are you talking with her?" So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, "Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?" They went out of the town and were coming to him.
Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, "Rabbi, eat." But he said to them, "I have food to eat that you do not know about." So the disciples said to one another, "Has anyone brought him something to eat?" Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. Do you not say, 'There are yet four months, then comes the harvest'? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, 'One sows and another reaps.' I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor."
Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony, "He told me all that I ever did." So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, "It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world."
We were warmly welcomed by, I think, everyone we passed including a member who came to us in the pew to ask if we had any questions about the service. Another offered the locations of the restrooms, which was appreciated since there was some signage but I did not notice directions to the restrooms.
The sanctuary was a moderate arched ceiling and I should have assessed the acoustics. I enjoyed the sound of the choir and noticed some smiles there. I didn’t realize till late in the service that had we sat in the alcove at the rear of the sanctuary we would have been able to hear more clearly as I missed a lot of what was said.
From where we sat, though, I was able to enjoy the antics of a delightful one-year-old. It was interesting to watch the range of reactions to her, and I couldn’t help but be reminded of Christ’s admonishment to let the children come near for heaven belongs to such as these. I especially enjoyed watching one young girl’s heart melt when the baby played with her hair.
The sermon seemed to be based on re-telling of the story of Christ and the Samaritan woman at the well. Unfortunately, I was unable to understand much until I turned and heard the speakers behind us.
We had some interesting conversations after the service including some special time with a woman who had also lost a son and we ministered to each other.
Arriving early gave us an opportunity to wander around the building a bit. I had the sense this congregation would be very much like a family, and it was.
After finding coffee near the sanctuary, several members arrived and greeted us warmly. As more arrived we got caught up in conversation and before we knew it, it was time to find a seat for worship.
There was a front section and a rear section, and we sat in the very back of the front section. When I suggested a seat that looked good to me, I failed to take into account the lower ceiling in the rear which would have made the echo considerably less of an issue.
The greetings continued after we sat down, before worship got underway, and during the greeting portion of the service. Afterward we enjoyed a meaningful conversation with a woman who has two Marine sons and had lost another son five years ago. It’s always a bittersweet joy to encounter someone with whom we have so much in common.
One of the women who first greeted us thoughtfully stopped before the service to ask if we had any questions about the Order of Worship, since Lutheran services can be a bit confusing.
The décor was as expected for such a traditional mainline denomination: a high ceiling, lots of dark wood, and intricate stained glass. The ample legroom and padded pew made for comfortable seating.
The music was presented by a traditional choir led by an excellent organist. The volume was perfect and without a hint of pretention.
The sermon expounded in detail on the story of the woman at the well.
The service ended with the Sacrament of Communion which is always a humbling privilege.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, there is so much life left in this, Your church. We ask You to continue to bless and guide this congregation. Amen.
Sunday, March 12, 2017
Today we worshiped at St. Stephen’s Church, 405 Frederick Avenue, Sewickley, PA 15143, 412.741.1790, www.ststephenschurch.net, Geoff Chapman, Senior Pastor.
Scripture – ESV
Numbers 21:4-9 –
From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food." Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, "We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us." So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, "Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live." So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.
John 2:23-3:15 –
Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.
Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him." Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus said to him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."
Nicodemus said to him, "How can these things be?" Jesus answered him, "Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
John 19:38-40 –
After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.
This church includes several buildings, so we were pleased to have chosen the door to the narthex. We were early and there appeared to be a class going on, so we walked around a bit aided by mostly good signage. We learned shortly before time for the service we came to attend that it was held in a different area. Our thanks to the man who walked us there.
The sanctuary featured high wooden arches and intricate wood carvings, whereas our service today was contemporary in a modern space with a larger wooden cross and well-designed acoustic treatment. In the hallway outside was a bulkhead delightfully adorned with crosses provided by the members.
We were greeted by almost everyone we passed, including the assistant pastor who took time to talk to us. On my enquiry as to whether wine was used for Communion, he explained their belief that the benefits of the elements were equally in both and I was able to receive the bread and a blessing at the station of the wine. I was able to participate in Communion and my 25 years without alcohol is intact.
We enjoyed our coffee and the worship team’s music, particularly at the offering.
There was a healthy age mix with a lot of delightful children. I am always amazed how the worship area fills after the service starts in contemporary worship.
The sermon was inspired of Christ and used, I thought, an unusual combination of Scripture: Moses making a bronze snake so those who were bit by the serpents could look upon it and be healed and the New Testament story of Nicodemus coming to understand and believe in Christ on the Cross.
An interesting quote from a recent survey that 70% of respondents would not want to live next to “born-again Christians.” The pastor talked of his coming to Christ while in seminary over a five-year period.
I thought back to when God claimed me. I believed I was a Christian for the first 50 years, but then I was saved. Like Nicodemus, I came to know my Lord.
It has been almost four years since we worshiped at this church, long enough that I did not recall the facility being so maze-like, so I appreciated some kind people who directed us. One of those kind folks was an Assistant Pastor who took time to talk with us, and another gentleman who walked us to the worship area as we figured out we had been waiting near the main sanctuary, admiring the woodwork, but worship would be elsewhere in the building.
After we found the coffee, we found seats. The stage area was attractively decorated and the talented musicians were a joy, with voices blending perfectly.
We loved watching the many little ones who seemed to enjoy themselves.
The sermon was entitled The New Birth, a subject that has fascinated humans since those words fell from Jesus’ lips. The pastor spoke of what it means to be born again then answered his own question “Who Needs the New Birth?” (answer: everyone).
A portion I found especially fascinating was when he asked “How Does the New Birth Happen?” To this he responded that it was much like the physical birth in that we are born by the work of another, without our consent, focusing on what God does.
He relayed a personal story about becoming a New Creation and the spiritual healing he experienced upon his own New Birth.
I so appreciated his description of Nicodemus as he helped take Jesus’ body from the cross. He, a member of the Sanhedrin, became ritually unclean in the process because of the Blood, but experienced healing in surrendering to the Lordship of Christ.
I think that’s the way it is for true spiritual healing: in surrendering, we appear to lose everything, only to regain even more as we are healed by the sacrifice of Christ.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, You have blessed Your Church greatly and we were blessed to meet You here in worship today. We ask for Your continued Presence and guidance for this congregation. Amen.
Sunday, March 5, 2017
Like many people, we look forward to connecting with God in church, and rightfully so. But flexibility can also provide some phenomenal experiences with God.
Today we had our church visit narrowed down to a few with early services, we were dressed and ready with a check partially written out in my wallet when the opportunity arose to help a young mother talk out some problems involving her family.
When we get sidetracked, a warmth overwhelms us that we are where God wants us at that moment. The really cool thing is never knowing when or where that might happen. Some memorable ones occurred in a supermarket parking lot, in a narthex while a service was going on, in jail, in a shelter, and at a check-out register. The connection in hospitals and funeral homes is always powerful.
Never miss church worship when you can be there, but stay prepared to be used by God everywhere you go.
Our prayer for God’s people –
Lord, we pray all are prepared to be Your servants wherever You may call us. Amen.