Sunday, June 25, 2017
Today we worshiped at Riverside Community Church, 401 Allegheny Avenue, Oakmont, PA 15139, 412.828.2488, www.riversideconnect.org, Bill Ellis, Lead Pastor.
Scripture – Revelation 2:1-7 NLT
“Write this letter to the angel of the church in Ephesus. This is the message from the one who holds the seven stars in his right hand, the one who walks among the seven gold lampstands:
“I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars. You have patiently suffered for me without quitting.
“But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches. But this is in your favor: You hate the evil deeds of the Nicolaitans, just as I do.
“Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. To everyone who is victorious I will give fruit from the tree of life in the paradise of God.”
We tried to visit this church a few years ago and, being a 70-mile round trip, we were not in a hurry to try again. Jan found their website and the correct location, and I’m glad we made the trip.
I was welcomed by a Marine at the door who said there were several other Marines there also, and we were greeted by a few people sitting near us during the official greeting time. I was sorry to see the children leave before the sermon.
There is an appealing cross and innovative use of an older church building; from the sanctuary down, it was more modern than expected.
The praise team sounded talented but I was surprised to feel the floor vibrate with the bass. I appreciated the solo from the female leads.
We watched a video of the Serve the Burgh project which was just completed.
One of the children’s directors delivered the message and asked the church to make a loud noise so the children would wonder what they were missing…the neighbors may have wondered too.
The message was part of a series called “Priority Mail” and how we get correction mail along with encouragement mail from God and we are to accept both joyfully. He talked about his acceptance letter from Grove City and his eventual realization that he needed to change his major. This was the story of our oldest daughter at Grove City also.
The Marine I met was one of at least a half dozen ushers who stood around the perimeter throughout the service, though I am not sure why.
There was good signage in the part of the building we saw as well as mention of handicapped accessibility.
Several people smiled and said good morning, and the usher who gave me a program, whom I had asked about the location of the ladies’ room, saw me come back up and checked that I’d found it, which I appreciated.
We also had us a chance to look around a little bit. The colorfully-decorated children’s church area looked like it was definitely geared for kids.
Upon entering the sanctuary, we noticed the contemporary instruments in the front so we chose our seats based on the location and direction of the overhead speakers. I was glad we did when the music started and I felt the bass vibrations in my feet. The worship leaders’ music was well done and the voices blended harmoniously but I’m fairly certain the volume would have been a problem had we sat almost anywhere else.
The platform was simple, with what looked like a solid periwinkle color on the rear wall and a plain white cross rising from the center. I thought it looked striking.
A video updated the congregation on an event called “Serve the Burgh” (www.servetheburgh.org) in which the church partnered with other churches and organizations in the area to perform service projects in the community.
The current sermon series is “Priority Mail: Letters to the Churches in Revelation” and this week’s entry was titled “Bold Faith Can Handle the Truth.” The message was presented by Josh Hall, who serves this church as one of its Kid Ministry Directors. He was enthusiastic, upbeat, and passionate with many personal stories and examples.
He began with stories about good mail versus bad mail he had received and the necessity of reading both, especially when they are from Jesus. He sees what we do right, He knows our struggles, always gives precisely the right direction, and knows the best reward for our efforts.
He closed the message with the admonition to always seek the Truth, even when it is not what we want to hear. When it comes from Christ, it’s what we need to hear.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray this church gets to expand their Serve the Burgh program as it sounds like an inspired way to take their witness of Your message to their neighbors. Amen.
Sunday, June 18, 2017
Today we worshiped at Crossroads Church, 8533 Peters Road, Cranberry Township, PA 16066, 412.494.9999, www.crossroadsumc.org, Mike Arnold, Campus Pastor.
Scripture – NLT
Genesis 12:1-3 –
The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.”
Matthew 28:18-20 –
Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
Romans 5:5-6 –
And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.
When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners.
1 Thessalonians 5:17 –
Never stop praying.
Philippians 1:6 –
And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.
We had the opportunity to witness some of our grandchildren show some of what they learned in Vacation Bible School this past week. It was a joy to see so many of the children loudly singing what they learned while using the appropriate hand and body signs. I know I will be hearing some of these songs when I visit.
It was a joy to worship with some familiar faces where we are always made to feel welcome. Their great coffee doesn’t hurt either.
The pastor started by asking the church to see how long they could hold their breath, holding their hand up until they had to breathe. I can’t really breathe well, and with what I’ve done to my rotator cuffs, I can’t hold my arms up well either. The exercise was a lead-in to today’s message about breathing in God’s blessings and remembering to breathe those blessings out on others. This I can readily relate to; God has blessed me overwhelmingly, and as great as that has been, it wouldn’t be worth near as much without praying that blessing on others.
I’m learning to seek out those who look to be in pain or distress…many times tears flow when I ask to pray over/for them. I feel guilty to feel so blessed for praying for others.
I look at four different newspapers along with other news sources, and none of them covered the citizen who caught the two escaped murderers. All said an armed citizen stopped them, but none related his story of not using his guns, but prayer. He said when they came, they laid down in his driveway and gave up, including when one who got up, got a drink of water, and went back to his position of surrender. Prayer works!
I loved the addition of the flute for the last song; it added a lot to an already terrific worship team.
It’s always a joy to visit this church, but today was special. Seven of our grandchildren attended Kids XP (Vacation Bible School) here last week and today they participated in the worship service via an extremely enthusiastic music presentation.
The service was well attended, even requiring the set-up of additional seating, and we would have stayed for the picnic lunch afterward but the heat was just too much for either of us.
The Father’s Day video was a powerful testimony to the importance of a male role model in a young man’s life.
The message series was called “5 Simple Ways to Bless” with today’s first part entitled “Breathe and Pray.” He stated that we are created to breathe in God’s blessings and then to bless others where we live, work, and play.
He spoke of praying toward pain instead of turning from it, of praying for others as I walk around during the day, and praying for God to create spiritual curiosity in those for whom I pray.
Just this morning I was asking God what I should pray for, so I’m grateful for this answer to my prayer.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we have seen how You have blessed this church. Direct them as they continue to breathe out those blessings. Amen.
Sunday, June 11, 2017
Today we worshiped at Mt. Carmel Evangelical Presbyterian Church, 2720 Brodhead Road, Aliquippa, PA 15001 724.378.3821, www.mtcpc.org, Mike Anastas, Pastor.
Scripture – Romans 8:1-4 NIV
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
It is amazing to me that the parking lot was the only part that looked familiar to me. It seems like the hexagon shape of the impressive sanctuary, the great wooden cross, comfortable chairs, and vibrant stained glass, even the good signage would have been memorable. Our visit comes at the tail end of some remodeling so everything seemed fresh and new.
We were welcomed by the pastor.
The praise team had delightful harmony and the volume was excellent for me. I appreciated that the children were blessed before leaving the sanctuary.
The message was the first of a series on the Promises of Grace. I think the pastor is right, we sometimes try to sell people on Christ with big promises. We cannot make promises for others or ourselves.
The pastor talked of how he once had to jump backward off a cliff when learning to rappel…sort of a great leap of faith backwards and the reassurance metaphor of God in the safety line.
We all still suffer from “I’m no good” and find it hard to forgive ourselves. We are no good, but God took away that guilt and we have no right to deny His cleansing sacrifice on the Cross. God’s grace is larger than all our sins.
Was pleased that their Kingdom Week program of ministry to the community stresses prayer, the most important part.
Our last visit here was almost seven years ago, and it looks like since then this church has left the Presbyterian Church (USA) and joined the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.
The corner location is well-suited with plenty of parking. A gentleman welcomed us and handed us a bulletin immediately upon entering and several folks extended brief greetings.
We guessed the interior had recently been painted as the walls were bare, but clear directional signage was helpful. We arrived too late to check out the coffee, unfortunately.
The sanctuary is striking: large enough for a couple hundred or so people, attractively designed with a large, backlit wooden cross flanked by two stunning stained glass windows behind the roomy platform.
The music was led by a guitarist and keyboardist who harmonized beautifully, along with a second guitar and drums. We sang several of my favorite songs, including In Christ Alone, Great is Thy Faithfulness, and the offertory, Be Thou My Vision. The volume was perfect.
All the children were called forward and I anticipated a message designed for them. Instead, the pastor led the congregation in prayer over the children, which I thought was exceptional.
“Promises of Grace” is the title of the new series beginning today and the message was “Grace for Change.” The topic was the battle against our knowledge of and guilt over our own sins, what the pastor referred to as the “storm of self-blame” when we find ourselves thinking we are no good. The antidote for this attack is found in Romans 8:1 which states there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. He emphasized that we are not told to ignore our sins, but to leave them at the foot of the Cross.
The Minute for Mission focused on Kingdom Week, which is a week of mission performed for neighbors of the church instead of traveling farther away. Support for this mission seems strong and in the past has produced amazing results with the community.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we lift up to You this upcoming Kingdom Week, asking that Your power is felt by both the neighborhood and the church. We pray for Your gift of courage as the members of this church boldly take their witness to Your people outside the doors. Amen.
Sunday, June 4, 2017
Today we worshiped at Southminster Presbyterian Church, 799 Washington Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15228, 412.343.8900, www.spchurch.org, Rev. Dr. Daniel B. Merry, Senior Pastor.
Scripture – Acts 2:1-8 NIV
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?”
We wanted to worship someplace where Pentecost would be celebrated and we knew that would be the case at Southminster.
The red drape on the cross was expected; the foam flames on the head of one of the pastors was a surprise.
The lead voice on the worship team was a joy to listen to, and their enthusiasm was evident.
Almost everyone we passed walking to the church said hello along with a number of people at the doors; we felt quite welcome. Maybe it was our red shirts for Pentecost.
I thought the best point of the message was the first one, a need of self-acceptance. We all are hopeless sinners but for the love of Christ…we need to witness despite who we are.
It was significant to partake in Communion after an opportunity to confess my sins.
Two people thanked me for my service. And probably the most personally meaningful part of worship was the few moments after the service with Dan. God has been using a lot of different people to move me to where He wants me next, and this was one more piece.
We had a delightful conversation with some folks showing ways to experience some of what handicapped people deal with.
With today being Pentecost, we intentionally chose a church we knew would observe this special day.
People exiting the earliest service greeted us as we entered and some entering the later service did the same as we left. Many others greeted us as well and the atmosphere was one of celebration.
We were blessed to visit the Special Needs Awareness Festival that was held today. There were opportunities to visit different stations of crafting and fun things to help youngsters and adults to better understand the special needs of others.
The vulnerable and heartfelt message was given by Karl Hudson, Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries. It was titled “Heavenly Gravity” and focused on unity in terms of self, community, and the world. He said that self-acceptance of both the good and the bad is key, that unity in the community (or fellowship) is achieved through service, being a “giver” instead of a “taker,” and part of finding unity in the world needs to be learning how to disagree while remembering that at some point all will be redeemed.
I appreciated the opportunity to witness the Ordination and Installation of Officers earlier in the service and then to participate in Communion after the message.
Following worship, we visited the Special Needs Awareness Festival and enjoyed enlightening and educational conversations with some people.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray the Spirit moves through Your church to every nook and cranny. Inspire the congregation to share their witness in Your Name. Amen.