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.