Friday, December 29, 2017
This past Sunday we worshiped at River Oaks Community Church, 1855 Lewisville Clemmons Road, Clemmons, NC 27012, 336.766.0033, www.riveroakschurch.org, Pastor David Beaty.
Scripture – ESV
Matthew 2:1-18 –
Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, "Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him." When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him; and assembling all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They told him, "In Bethlehem of Judea, for so it is written by the prophet:
"'And you, O Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.'"
Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him." After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, "Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him." And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, "Out of Egypt I called my son."
Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:
"A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more."
Jeremiah 29:13 –
You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.
Matthew 7:7-8 –
Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.
Hebrews 11:6 –
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
We were late getting to a church that had four services, so greeting was limited to the ushers at the door. I was impressed that the usher in the sanctuary went out of his way to find us seats.
The praise team sounded excellent and I appreciated the accompaniment of the flute. I enjoyed the color changes in the back-lit stained glass-looking panels in the suspended wood frames framing the stage.
The message used plenty of Scripture explaining the symbolism of the Gifts of the Magi and, always special for me, the prophecies of the Old Testament.
There was a time for self-confession before Communion and I was delighted that the congregation was instructed to offer the elements verbally as they were passed in the pew.
We appreciated the time the pastor and a member gave us after the service. Hopefully we can visit again when we are in North Carolina.
In the course of a Christmas visit with family, we visited River Oaks’ 9:15 service Christmas Eve morning. We arrived later than we wished so had no opportunity to tour this large campus. A kind usher showed us to two of the few remaining empty seats.
The music dominated the first half of the service, but they were beautiful songs telling the true meaning of the season. I especially appreciated the flute during “Joy to the World.”
The message began with a quiz about details of the Christmas story that have been passed from generation to generation, details that are actually tradition, such as who saw the “star in the East” and where did the Wise Men find the Baby Jesus.
The pastor indicated the meaning behind the gifts of the Magi: gold being the metal of kings, frankincense used in worship, and myrrh used in Jewish burials. All gifts that pointed to significant traits in Jesus’ life.
Communion was celebrated with worshipers instructed to speak to the person to whom they hand the elements (i.e., the Body of Christ and the Blood of Christ). Not many near us seemed to say anything, but it’s likely some did besides us.
Considering the busy-ness of the day, we very much appreciated the time the pastor took to speak with us after worship.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray Your continued blessing on this Your church as they continue to seek Your direction for them. Amen.
Sunday, December 17, 2017
Today we worshiped at Crossroads Church Cranberry, 8533 Peters Road, Cranberry Township, PA 16066, 412.494.9999, www.crossroadsumc.org, Mike Arnold, Campus Pastor.
Scripture – NIV
Revelation 5:1-14 –
Then I saw in the right hand of him who sat on the throne a scroll with writing on both sides and sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?” But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it. I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside. Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”
Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. And they sang a new song, saying:
“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”
Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they were saying:
“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!”
Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”
The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.
Hebrews 12:28 –
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe,
2 Corinthians 5:21 –
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
We were back to Crossroads with plans of taking Christmas pictures of some of our grandchildren. We knew, sitting with the children during the first service, we would miss some of worship. We would stay for the second service and take pictures after. It seemed like a good plan, but changed into something special.
The youngest looked and moved around a lot and talked a good bit, except when it was time to pray, then reverently bowed her head to the seat back in front of us. On the other side, another granddaughter did her own liturgical dance with the music. When she requested help finding where they were on the Scripture reading, I shared my phone app. She read along and then continued to read. When she shared my phone with her sister on the end, she also read for a while. I am used to the grands immediately scrolling through the pictures quicker than I can, but they both read Scripture until it was time to pray.
It was a joy to receive Communion with our grandchildren. Our grandson stayed with us for the second service, during which I noticed him looking down, reading his Bible. This brought back the memory of noticing my oldest son during the message with his head down. He was playing a game with one of his sisters and reading his Bible at the same time. Fortunately, I forgot to say something to him after the service, because mid-week he brought up an intellectual question on the pastor’s sermon…he was only doing two other things at the time so for him it was easy to capture the pastor’s message too. Years later here I am listening to the message twice and having trouble keeping my mind on it.
The pastor opened his sermon talking about when the Sears Wish Book would come and children would pour over it looking for what toys they wanted for Christmas. The store that was a mainstay of mail order after all the stores they opened has seemed of late to want to recapture the mail (internet) sales and close the stores.
A special joy today was one of my young granddaughters explaining Communion to me, and my grandson taking my hand to walk up to take Communion at the second service. Their progress and growth in Christ warms my heart.
Admittedly part of the reason we enjoy visiting this church has to do with seeing family, but this church is blessed in many ways. The sanctuary is comfortable and inviting, the music is superb, the members are friendly toward us and each other, and our family are being taught and nurtured here. Also, the coffee is exceptional.
The Advent series, Come Let Us Adore Him, continued with part three, Worship Christ the Lord. The pastor began by talking about the things we grow out of as we grow up. He pointed out that when we reach Heaven we will have outgrown things like confession of sin, since there will be no sin, and evangelism, since everyone there will know Christ Face-to-face. An interesting concept I had not previously considered.
He stressed the one thing we will never outgrow, in Heaven or Earth, is worship, and that worship, in fact, reflects what we will do in Heaven. Based on Scripture from Revelation, he spoke of the scroll with seven seals and displayed a photo of one. For me, seeing the photo helped me feel the weight of the worth of the One Who is worthy to open the scroll.
He pointed out that worship reflects our hearts, and we should aim to worship with both humility and gratitude.
I appreciated the readings from Revelation, I cherished the opportunity to participate in Communion accompanied by our granddaughter, and my heart was glad to see family and friends.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we are thankful for the way Your church is helping raise the children to know and love You. Amen.
Sunday, December 10, 2017
Today we worshiped at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, 1001 Tenth Avenue, New Brighton, PA 15066, 724.846.0544, Rev. Angela Smith, Pastor.
Scripture – NASB
Isaiah 40:1-11 –
"Comfort, O comfort My people," says your God.
"Speak kindly to Jerusalem; And call out to her, that her warfare has ended, That her iniquity has been removed, That she has received of the LORD'S hand Double for all her sins."
A voice is calling, "Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.
"Let every valley be lifted up, And every mountain and hill be made low; And let the rough ground become a plain, And the rugged terrain a broad valley; Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed, And all flesh will see it together; For the mouth of the LORD has spoken."
A voice says, "Call out."
Then he answered, "What shall I call out?" All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, When the breath of the LORD blows upon it; Surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever.
Get yourself up on a high mountain, O Zion, bearer of good news, Lift up your voice mightily, O Jerusalem, bearer of good news; Lift it up, do not fear. Say to the cities of Judah, "Here is your God!"
Behold, the Lord GOD will come with might, With His arm ruling for Him. Behold, His reward is with Him And His recompense before Him. Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, In His arm He will gather the lambs And carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes.”
Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13 –
O LORD, You showed favor to Your land; You restored the captivity of Jacob. You forgave the iniquity of Your people; You covered all their sin. Selah.
I will hear what God the LORD will say; For He will speak peace to His people, to His godly ones; But let them not turn back to folly. Surely His salvation is near to those who fear Him, That glory may dwell in our land. Lovingkindness and truth have met together; Righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth springs from the earth, And righteousness looks down from heaven. Indeed, the LORD will give what is good, And our land will yield its produce. Righteousness will go before Him And will make His footsteps into a way.
2 Peter 3:8-15a –
But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.
Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.
Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.
Mark 1:1-8 –
The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet: "BEHOLD, I SEND MY MESSENGER AHEAD OF YOU, WHO WILL PREPARE YOUR WAY; THE VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS, ' MAKE READY THE WAY OF THE LORD, MAKE HIS PATHS STRAIGHT.'"
John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins. John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist, and his diet was locusts and wild honey. And he was preaching, and saying, "After me One is coming who is mightier than I, and I am not fit to stoop down and untie the thong of His sandals. I baptized you with water; but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit."
We arrived right before church started and were warmly greeted as we entered and during the Passing of Christ’s Peace.
Most of the sanctuary’s paneled ceiling has large wooden beams and a massive concrete arch that frames the chancel. The wall has a large gold cross suspended in front of a long red curtain. The overall effect is impressive. I felt the stained-glass windows down the sides directing my eye to the chancel.
The message began with the 8th Commandment as an example of the dual-sided coin of Law and Grace. A strong point was made that God loves us all exactly the same, even those we do not love. The message was developed well with appropriate Scripture references.
We didn’t get to look around much but the signage to the rest rooms was good. We were thankful to talk to some members after the service, and I was grateful to meet the owner of the angelic singing voice. We hope to meet the pastor if God brings us back.
We arrived with about two minutes to spare before the service began. As we entered the building, we were greeted immediately and given bulletins while several folks introduced themselves and welcomed us. One of the women greeted Bob with a “Semper Fi, Brother!” and said she was a Corpsman, so I knew we’d be chatting later.
The sanctuary is quite large and beautiful, with an elongated arch to the high ceiling. The rear of the chancel was backed with a bright red, floor-to-ceiling backdrop and a large cross in front of it, which looked stunning.
Even with the size of the sanctuary and the height of the ceiling, I had no trouble whatsoever with the acoustics. I could hear and understand what was spoken and sung.
The chancel was flanked by the huge Christmas tree on the right, and on the left a mostly empty creche. A paragraph in the bulletin told the rest of the story: “During the four weeks of Advent, the creche in the chancel moves from an empty manger to a fuller symbol of Christ’s presence among us as ‘the Word becomes flesh.’ For this second week in Advent, we add animals to our manger scene, symbolizing that all of God’s creation is involved in our fall into sin and in our waiting for the coming Lord.” How imaginative!
Having the entire service printed in the bulletin is extremely helpful for people like us who were not brought up in the Lutheran tradition.
The untitled sermon began with the plain fact that Christmas is 15 days away for us all whether we are prepared or not. That is good news for those who are ready, but worrisome for those who still have preparations to make.
She continued with examples of the conviction of the Law and protection of Grace: from the perspective of good news, God loves us all; from the perspective of the law, God loves all people even those in whom we see nothing lovable. Everyone is equally precious to God and they are worthy because God loves them just as He loves us.
Communion was celebrated today, which I found especially uplifting.
The pastor had to leave immediately afterward to preach at another church, but we enjoyed an extended conversation with the corpsman/woman we met before worship and her husband.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we lift up Your church to You and ask for Your guidance to discern Your direction for their future. Amen.
Sunday, December 3, 2017
Today we worshiped at Crossroads Church, 8533 Peters Road, Cranberry Township, PA 16066, 412.494.9999, www.crossroadsumc.org, Mike Arnold, Campus Pastor.
Scripture – NIV
Exodus 20:21 –
The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.
Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24 –
You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them,
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.
Exodus 32:1 –
When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, they gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him.”
Exodus 33:7-11 –
Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, calling it the “tent of meeting.” Anyone inquiring of the Lord would go to the tent of meeting outside the camp. And whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people rose and stood at the entrances to their tents, watching Moses until he entered the tent. As Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance, while the Lord spoke with Moses. Whenever the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance to the tent, they all stood and worshiped, each at the entrance to their tent. The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent.
Exodus 33:14-15 –
The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.”
Matthew 18:20 –
For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.
Hebrews 10:25 –
Not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Revelation 21:3 –
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.
Romans 12:2 –
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
When we pray for God to lead us to where we can meet with Him in worship and the opportunity arises to visit with our daughter and her family, it’s an easy choice.
With a lot of interaction with our grandchildren, my note-taking was poor. The message was “Gathering in His Presence” and I surely felt that today.
The message raised the question, do I really want to meet with God or am I worshiping something else? There was a time in my life where my tools were my god, and His great gift was to help me find my way home.
We were encouraged to come expecting to meet God, and I would extend that to everywhere at any time. I had a great ministry time today during the service with my grandchildren and then later in the narthex with a sister in Christ. God can and will talk to us and use us. Be prepared!
We were invited by our grandchildren to attend worship, so of course we were there.
This church is typically welcoming and cordial, and as many times as we’ve been here, we meet new people each time. Some members introduce themselves and others recognize us as visitors when they see us with our grandchildren and stop to greet us.
The sanctuary has been rearranged since our last visit: the rows of chairs are still in place and new square tables enhance the back for an appealing and slightly different seating option. The sanctuary was newly decorated for the Christmas season including trees, poinsettias, and lighting in the appropriate Advent color of purple. Everything looked sparkly and full of joy, much like the people.
The music was led by the excellent praise team…I wish they had a name but if they do, I don’t know it.
The Advent sermon series is “Come Let Us Adore Him” and today’s part one was “Gathering in His Presence.” The pastor began by defining worship as connecting with God, and stated that we should always expect to meet God and experience His Presence.
He suggested if we are not meeting God in worship, asking 1 – Do I truly want to? and
2 – Am I worshiping something else? He stated that worship is a response to God’s Presence, and that God promises to be present when we gather together.
In order to experience God’s presence in worship, he advised, 1 – Arrive expecting to meet God; 2 – Be alert for God’s presence; 3 – Be open to different expressions of God’s presence; and 4 – Say “yes” to his lead.
Sensing God’s Presence in worship transforms the hour (+/-) into a holy time that rejuvenates and fills the soul with joy and purpose. It paves the way for God’s Holy Spirit to speak to the heart and can change everything. If these practices can help me experience God’s Presence more often, it’s worth any effort necessary.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we feel the excitement in Your church and ask that You sustain them as they grow closer to You. Amen.