Sunday, April 15, 2018

St. Paul's Evangelical Lutheran Church


Today we worshiped at St. Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, 409 Sarver Road, Sarver, PA 16055, 724.753.2424, www.stpaulssarver.com, Rev. Shawn Smith, Pastor.





Scripture – NIV



Acts 3:11-21 –



While the man held on to Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade. When Peter saw this, he said to them: “Fellow Israelites, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a murderer be released to you. You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has completely healed him, as you can all see.



“Now, fellow Israelites, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did your leaders. But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that his Messiah would suffer. Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Messiah, who has been appointed for you—even Jesus. Heaven must receive him until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.



Psalm 4 –



Answer me when I call to you, my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; have mercy on me and hear my prayer.



How long will you people turn my glory into shame? How long will you love delusions and seek false gods, Know that the Lord has set apart his faithful servant for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him.



Tremble and do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent. Offer the sacrifices of the righteous and trust in the Lord.



Many, Lord, are asking, “Who will bring us prosperity?” Let the light of your face shine on us. Fill my heart with joy when their grain and new wine abound.



In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.



John 21:1-14 –



Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus ), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.



Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.



He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”



“No,” they answered.



He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.



Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, “It is the Lord,” he wrapped his outer garment around him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred yards. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.



Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish you have just caught.” So Simon Peter climbed back into the boat and dragged the net ashore. It was full of large fish, 153, but even with so many the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” They knew it was the Lord. Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus appeared to his disciples after he was raised from the dead.





Bob’s thoughts:



A year or two ago, a woman who was a rep for some medical equipment I was trying to use mentioned the church she attended and today it popped up in our file. Too often I have seen God’s hand in leading us to worship to ever doubt his guidance, and today that was the case again.



We were greeted and welcomed from when we came in the door. The church has stepped out in faith and is replacing their sanctuary, so we worshiped in the pleasant social hall.



I appreciated the wooden cross on the wall and the 4 x 4 cross draped in white.



There is a distinct friendliness to the congregation. We were pleased to enjoy the hand bell choir and, for me, it was particularly special to hear a song I was familiar with.



Something happened here that has never happened before: a gentleman nearby noticed my pain in standing and offered that it would be fine to sit. I appreciated his compassion.



Some of the hymns displayed at the front were copied from the hymnal and tiny to read from where we sat.



The pastor put his heart into the children’s message of Christ feeding the disciples on the beach after His resurrection. He was reminded by one of the children that they didn’t have salmon. He was quick to recover and adapt, and the children got the message. The same with the sermon and with application in easy-to-follow format.



I think we do feel lost often and when we consider the mission God is calling us to, we feel called to an impossible task. When we step out in faith, Jesus continues to provide the resources we think we don’t have.



Communion was offered with wine or juice although we had to ask someone which was juice. It was special that there was a young girl with a bowl of treats for the children who came forward with their parents.



We appreciated the time after the service with the pastor and others, including some prior military, and I was pleased to have a copy of the prayer list.





Jan’s thoughts:



We did not realize this church was in the midst of a huge construction project, so worship was held in the social hall. This was a long-term project, though, so the comfort level was high.



Nearly everyone we saw or were near took the time to greet us, and though we routinely seek out a pastor after worship, today he kindly sought us out.



We were handed bulletins and informed Communion would be celebrated and both juice and wine would be available. We found seats at the back and met some of the folks sitting around us before worship began.



I was grateful the bulletin was the only reference during worship and the words to hymns were displayed at the front. This makes it much easier in a service containing a fair amount of liturgy.



I thought the Children’s Message reenactment of the focus Scripture passage was excellent…the children were engaged and enthusiastic participants.



The untitled sermon focused on God’s constant, abundant provision as told in the story of the Miraculous Catch of Fish in John 21. I found his point fascinating that the questions for the disciples between Christ’s resurrection and the first Pentecost are the same questions we face in the time between the first Pentecost and His Second Coming. Christ offers His Presence and provision in the midst of the confusion, just as He did for the disciples. And like the disciples, we need to obey, trusting Him in spite of our “disqualifications.”



We were able to take Communion and appreciated both wine and grape juice being available as well as the instructions of our friends sitting nearby as to which was which.



We stayed for an informational meeting of the congregation and learned more about the construction plans, then stayed longer to speak with some of the folks.





Our prayer for this church:

Thank You, God, for entrusting this congregation to build for Your church. We trust You to continue to provide abundantly for their every need. Amen.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Edgewood Baptist Church


Today we worshiped at Edgewood Baptist Church, 430 Edgewood Road, Beaver Falls, PA 15010, 724.843.2889, www.edgewood-church.com, Pastor Michael Coleman.





Scripture – ESV



Hebrews 11:1 –

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.



Psalm 69:1-2 –

Save me, O God! For the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in deep mire, where there is no foothold; I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me.



Hebrews 11:8-12 –

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.



Genesis 12:1-4 –

Now the Lord said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."



So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.





Bob’s thoughts:



We were greeted by a number of people when we came in, including a woman, a trifecta: daughter, wife, and mother of a Marine. I wish we could have talked after worship.



There is a large cross painted on the wall that makes it look like it is recessed in the block. They also display a countdown on the screen till the service starts.



I was pleased to enjoy some of the best harmony ever from the four female praise team members.



We were delighted to witness the dedication of three babies. I have always taken to heart that Christ wanted the children to come to Him. They so recently left His presence that they still remember and sometimes can still see Christ and the angels. One of my favorite conversations was with a little girl in church talking about where the angels were sitting all around, she couldn’t believe that I couldn’t see them in the balcony…the balcony that was removed years before she was born.



Another preference for talking with children is always total honesty. You might not like what you hear, but you will learn the truth.



There was a short video that talked about the burden of stuff, which I learned first-hand when one of my brothers died and not too much later, my father-in-law. I received all kinds of tools and for a while thought how blessed I was, but soon realized what a burden it was to have so much stuff. When I followed God’s instruction to clean out, His peace washed over me when I obeyed.



This church has the blessed hindsight of when they needed something, the funds to accomplish it were there. It’s easy to think we need newer, bigger, better, but it becomes harder to seek God’s direction as to what He wants for His church. Seek His direction first and watch the miracles.



God was pursuing me for the first 50 years, others around me knew it, and one day it just happened. He won’t stop.



I had some trouble understanding everything in the pastor’s message due to volume or echo, I’m not sure.





Jan’s thoughts:



Churches are often full of surprises, and locations and denominational labels can be misleading.



We were greeted often at this church, before and after worship, and I witnessed members enthusiastically greeting each other, hugging, and praying together. The staff consists of numerous pastors, it seems, and several introduced themselves and welcomed us. One touch of hospitality was a small box of Kleenex under the chair in front of us; sometimes it’s the little things. I also witnessed an act of kindness when a woman gave up her seat for an older woman with a walker.



Someone mentioned in passing they were going to fill up their coffee cup, so I asked where the coffee was. It turned out to be in a small room where three gentlemen were having a study, but they freely offered to share, which I appreciated.



I could clearly hear the praise team rehearsing before the doors to the sanctuary were opened and I wondered how the volume would be from inside once the service was underway. It was not a problem, and I was thrilled to be able to stay for the music because it was outstanding. The praise team sounded amazing, and although the songs were mostly new to me, I found them deeply touching.



What a joy to be present for a triple baby dedication! The sanctuary was about filled to capacity, including many little ones.



The message series is called In Over My Head and the pastor summed it up quite simply: we are all learning to trust God. Mostly he spoke of Abraham’s obedience, how when God called him to go, Abraham obeyed without knowing where or anything else. All he knew was what God said and that was enough.



The pastor urged his listeners that when they hear from God, to just follow, that faith requires risk or it’s not faith. It is when we obey that we learn God is true and faithful. It does not matter what other people think if we have heard from God.



One of the most encouraging things I heard in this message is that God will not stop pursuing. I’m so grateful for that truth.



The pastor asked two thought-provoking questions: “What are you holding on to that God says to let go of?” and “What are you believing God for?” There were probably as many answers to those questions as there were people in the room. I know I’ll be thinking about them this week.





Our prayer for this church:

Awesome 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. Amen.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Crossroads Church - Cranberry


Today we worshiped at Crossroads Church Cranberry, 533 Peters Road, Cranberry Township, PA 16066, 412.494.9999, www.crossroadsumc.org, Mike Arnold, Campus Pastor.





Scripture – Matthew 28:1-10 NIV



After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.



There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.



The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”



So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”





Bob’s thoughts:



We were blessed to be able to worship on Good Friday and Easter with some of our family and I’m always surprised how they have grown in many ways. A lot of thought and planning goes into the worship service and we were glad to be part of it.



The pastor relayed a personal story about accidentally being locked out as young married couple. The closest I could come up with was when the door I went out locked behind me and I had to walk around to another one. When I was starting my business, I had a lot of different people who might need to get something from my house. It seemed silly to give them all keys, so I hung one on a short chain next to the lock. I still remember my mother asking if I had locked the basement door, to which I always replied in the affirmative.



When God redeemed me after 50 years, I wondered why He waited so long, patiently waiting for me to come to Him. It finally became clear that He knew I would not ask directions. The prompts from my wife and children made sense way too late, but when He claimed me I was totally and completely overwhelmed. Thank God, it has been a rich and satisfying life. Many times I didn’t know where I would get the money for some need, but we never were without. A former minister and dear friend regularly uses me in his message as the most phenomenal change in a person coming to Christ. Proof that He can and will use you.





Jan’s thoughts:



It was a joy to worship with local family members today. We arrived early enough that I could visit with the grandkids and help style my granddaughters’ hair.



As always, the music was enthusiastic and the volume was perfect.



I appreciated the video of a recent mission trip to Florida. How can your eyes stay dry when you see barriers broken down in love and an eternal difference made? I was so happy for all involved.



This message was part one of a new series, Overcomer, and was geared toward hearts and minds that may be here only a couple of times per year. It told The Story, instructed on first steps toward a relationship with God, and urged a confidential response by each person as to the status of that relationship.



Resurrection Day blessings to all!





Our prayer for this church:

Father, we pray Your call is heard and welcomed and Your children find the rich and satisfying life You have promised. Amen.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Faith Fellowship Alliance Church


Today we worshiped at Faith Fellowship Alliance Church, 200 Faith Way, Fared Drive, Butler, PA 16001, 724.287.2700, www.faithfellowshipalliance.com, Senior Pastor Richard Jenks.





Scripture – Matthew 21:1-11 NKJV



Now when they drew near Jerusalem, and came to Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her. Loose them and bring them to Me. And if anyone says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them,’ and immediately he will send them.”



All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying:



“Tell the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold, your King is coming to you, Lowly, and sitting on a donkey, A colt, the foal of a donkey.’ ”



So the disciples went and did as Jesus commanded them. They brought the donkey and the colt, laid their clothes on them, and set Him on them. And a very great multitude spread their clothes on the road; others cut down branches from the trees and spread them on the road. Then the multitudes who went before and those who followed cried out, saying:



“Hosanna to the Son of David! ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’ Hosanna in the highest!”



And when He had come into Jerusalem, all the city was moved, saying, “Who is this?”



So the multitudes said, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee.”





Bob’s thoughts:



When God directs us to a church, we always hope to find out why. Today we knew.



We were welcomed by a number of people and I got a great smile from a beautiful little girl. I felt pretty special that she stopped to show me her toy till I saw she did the same with everyone who entered.



I found a number of crosses to focus on before the projection screen was raised to reveal a beautiful white back-lit cross. I didn’t get to go forward after the service but the baptismal looked impressive. The ceiling lights were conventional square fixtures but with colored blocks down the side like stained glass.



We were told how the new assistant pastor/youth pastor had been injured on his motorcycle and found out later that he is the pastors’ son.



The music was good, but at times loud enough to drown out the singing, making it hard to find where we were with the words. I’m sure the textured ceiling helped with the acoustics.



During the greeting time we met a woman who had also lost a son as a Marine. I also met a Marine there.



The Palm Sunday message mentioned how God could use a donkey, I immediately thought of Balaam. He posed the question where are you in your Christian walk, a believer, along for the ride, or crucifier? I liked the Scripture reading, with emotion and emphasis.



I was pleased we could talk to the mother who lost her Marine son and blessed to pray over her.





Jan’s thoughts:



From the parking lot to the main entrance is a slight uphill grade, and instead of walking up the driveway hill, we opted for the steps. We were immediately impressed that the steps were wide with a small riser, easily navigable by children and older folks, and with bright yellow paint across the front and top corner of each step, including one with little more than a crack to it but still enough to trip over. It seems like a small thing, but it’s really not small. They were excellently done.



When we reached the door, a gentleman opened it from inside and shook our hands in welcome. The restroom signs could not be overlooked, which was helpful, and I had to take a photo of the wooden cross in the entryway.



I enjoyed the color coordination of the spacious sanctuary, with the matching carpet and pew padding and charming decoration of the worship space.



Several people stopped to welcome us before and after the service. And the bulletin was colorful and easy to read.



The music was contemporary, which surprised me for some reason, and quite well done. I thought the violin contributed greatly.



As usual, Bob wore a Marine t-shirt, and during the greeting opportunity a woman sitting behind us introduced herself. It turns out she lost a Marine son also, so we spoke for a while and then caught up again after worship to talk some more and pray.



The sermon was untitled from what I could tell. The pastor stated there were three categories of people present on that first Palm Sunday: the true believers, the hangers-on, and the religious who knew who Jesus was and hated Him. He said of course everyone would put themselves in the first group, that of the true believers, but he asked what if believing in Jesus meant you were never healed? Or never happy? Or it meant you had to suffer? What about the hard things Jesus said? And what if Jesus did not condemn what you condemned? He reminded us that Jesus does not fit in a box.



Then he asked a most intriguing question: Would Jesus look at you as a friend?



We believe Jesus is our Friend, but would He see us as His friend? That is a question worth pondering.





Our prayer for this church:

Lord, we pray Your church is encouraged to pray for and with those You bring to their door. Amen.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Wurtemburg United Methodist Church


Today we worshiped at Wurtemburg United Methodist Church, 1244 Portersville Road, Ellwood City, PA 16117, 724.758.9685, Chad J. Bogdewic, Pastor.





Scripture – Jeremiah 31:31-34



“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord.



“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord.



“I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”





Bob’s thoughts:



We were warmly welcomed when we came in and after. There was an interesting cross made from a small tree, which we learned later is a wandering cross transferred weekly to other churches in the area.



We sat in the side alcove, which brought to mind that most Methodist churches have this architecture and the few places I’ve seen in other denominations were former Methodist buildings. Unfortunately, all the cute babies were in the main part of the sanctuary.



I enjoyed the sound from the dozen or so choir members and the lovely children’s choir. The solo and as a group were understandable, pleasant, and cute.



Sometimes I am surprised how a sermon relates to Scripture I have read recently, and today’s was on “cutting” a new/additional covenant: passing between the sacrificed animal split in two with the unspoken consequence of “if you don’t uphold your part of the covenant, may you be split like this animal.”



I was thankful we could talk with some members after the service and blessed to have the opportunity to pray for a woman who had also lost a son. I wish we could have spent some time with the pastor.





Jan’s thoughts:



We opted for a pew in the wing area off the sanctuary even while I wondered how well we’d be able to see. As it turned out, we could see just fine.



We were greeted often, beginning when we exited the truck, again when we entered the building, by the folks we sat near, and others before, during, and after the service.



I noticed the very large cross crafted from rough branches and thought it was appropriate that the prelude was “The Old Rugged Cross.” It was only after the service that we learned this cross is in a different church in the area each week during Lent, and there is actually a second one just like it because so many churches wanted to participate. What a magnificent display of unity among denominations.



The choir sounded terrific together, and the children’s choir was enthusiastic with their singing and hand motions.



The sermon, “A New Covenant,” spoke of eschatology – the end times – and supersessionism – a theological view that holds that the New Covenant has replaced or superseded the Mosaic covenant. I was unsure where the pastor stood on the issue, but his final statement was one with which I do agree: The End Times began with the Resurrection of Christ.



We enjoyed our conversation with several members after worship.





Our prayer for this church:

Lord, we pray Your church is listening for Your call and ready to step out in faith. Amen.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Harmony Baptist Church


Today we worshiped at Harmony Baptist Church, 4103 Ellwood Road, New Castle, PA 16101, 724.924.9300, www.myharmonybaptistchurch.org, Pastor Jeff MacKay.





Scripture – NKJV



Romans 8:28-29 –



And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.



Mark 6:7-13 –



Calling the Twelve to him, he began to send them out two by two and gave them authority over impure spirits.



These were his instructions: “Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town. And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”



They went out and preached that people should repent. They drove out many demons and anointed many sick people with oil and healed them.





Bob’s thoughts:



We were warmly welcomed by the usher at the door, the pastor, and many others. The pastor pointed out the sanctuary and rest room locations, though I didn’t see signage for either. Many people stopped by our pew to welcome us while I got to admire the great wooden cross with a wide drape. The ceiling is a moderate arch with engineered beams over knotty pine; the acoustics were good.



The pastor had just returned from a family trip south and spoke about the churches where they worshiped while there; somewhat of a taste of what we do. He referred to a question raised there, “Do you know more about Christ than you did last year?” A good question about our growth.



I realized today that the paper outline of the message probably helps with the congregation’s retention of the sermon.



The highlight of the message for me was the pastor relating his encounter and witness to their gas repair man. We often get that whisper from God to witness, to tell our story. You are never wrong to speak up.



A major change came for me when one of our sons was killed. My therapy was to talk about it and tell people about him. My ministry improved so much because of my passion. My healing came from this witness. I joke that at times it was by force and there may be some truth to that, but I talked to Christians and those of other faiths, and some who held no beliefs.



Years ago, I was lamenting how little reaction I noticed when I would wear one of my Christian T-shirts into a secular setting like Kennywood Park. Then I realized I may never know how God used that witness; it may not have been the person who saw my Christian message but one they told or who they asked about it. Never hesitate to tell your story…Christ may have you there for just that opportunity.



The gas repair man may not have gotten the message, maybe he didn’t need it, and maybe somebody will be saved when the story is relayed down the road. Let Christ use you, it feels great.



I missed a time of confession before Communion and the elements were shared silently; from where we sat it didn’t look like the pastor was served.





Jan’s thoughts:



We visit many rural churches and each is as individual as the people who comprise it. This one was lovely with obvious attention paid to details. One such detail was the cross in the front draped in purple and featuring a crown of thorns. As if that were not enough, a small matching cross, including drape and crown, sat on each small window sill.



At first, I thought the Scripture verses on the walls were done with paint, but up close I could see they were cut out of black paper, obviously a labor of love.



When we arrived, as we stood inside I noticed the signage and the people not just milling about, but talking excitedly, greeting each other, and hugging. More of the same went on inside the sanctuary before worship, during the greeting time, and afterward. Many people stopped to introduce themselves and welcome us, and the pastor took time to greet and talk with us and provide directions on his way into the sanctuary.



The fair-sized sanctuary was nearly full, including the overflow space in a sort of balcony with its own entrance.



The bulletin included a flyer for a movie slated to open this coming Friday, March 16, called I Can Only Imagine…it is the story behind the MercyMe song of that title. I’m not sure I’ll be able to watch it, as this is one of the songs sung at our son’s memorial service. I’m sure it will be excellent and well worth watching.



The message was entitled Ministry Principles for “Sent Ones” and focused on “The Teaching Model of Jesus/The Pattern for Jesus’ Followers” – Follow Me, Be with Me, and Go as Me.” As the pastor put it: the call from Christ is a call to conversion (seeing Him for who He is), intimacy (spending time with Him), and mission (going out with Him).



He closed with the reminder that there is a reason we are where we are. I have been reminded of this regularly of late, so I felt like he was speaking to me. I guess I needed yet one more reminder, so I am passing it along.



I greatly appreciated that the service concluded with the Sacrament of Communion.





Our prayer for this church:

Lord, we pray You will encourage Your church to tell their story. May they boldly witness for You. Amen.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Southminster Presbyterian Church


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 – NIV



Psalm 19:7-14 –



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.

By them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults.

Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me.

Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression.



May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.



1 Corinthians 1:22-25 –



Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.





Bob’s thoughts:



We were happy to be here for worship, to wish the pastor happy birthday, and to see the newly installed tile floor. I thought the acoustics would be harmed but the sound was pleasing.



A draped cross is displayed on the rear wall of the stage and on the Communion table.



I was pleasantly surprised with how many greeted us and one nearby who thanked me for my service. She told us her father is a Marine veteran of Iwo Jima.



In his message, Pastor Dan told about going to minister at a prison and being harassed by the guards until he heard the laughter from the guards who worshiped at his church who had set him up.



We had worshiped at a church where they spoke of prison ministry, and I shared how I didn’t think I could do that. That Monday morning, I got a call from a waitress to whom I had been ministering that she was in jail. That was when I heard God laugh.



I was interviewing for a job as the head of maintenance at a penitentiary. The warden wanted to know if I could interact with inmates without trying to witness to them. I guess the cross and other items on my lapel made him wary. I was a new believer and on fire for Christ. I didn’t get the job, but I did witness to the warden. I was so sure when I prayed that this was the job God had for me, so I was disappointed. Not long afterwards, the head of maintenance was blamed for inmates having power tools they used to break out.



Today’s message for me, “You are not called to be successful, just faithful.” I have been well paid and I have been without work…I don’t know which is better, but I can testify that we were always taken care of.



I enjoyed the praise band, especially the female lead with her solo.



I was glad the elements were offered verbally and juice was used. Many recent suppers used wine and I abstain. I didn’t realize how much I missed being able to partake of both elements.





Jan’s thoughts:



It is always a joy to visit this church, to see old friends and make new ones. Today we got to do both, in addition to seeing the new floor in fellowship hall and wishing the pastor happy birthday.



The music was excellent, as always, and we were greeted warmly. We felt blessed to partake in Communion.



The message, entitled Divine Tension, was, for me, a timely reminder that we all have strain in our lives, and that what God wants from me is not so much of a mystery as it sometimes seems.



After mentioning a couple of anxiety-inducing real-life situations, Dan referred to the Jews and Greeks and what each required in order to believe in God. And God’s response to both was Christ crucified. Dan stated that worldly eyes saw only failure and humiliation, but Christ was the power and wisdom of God.



He stated that we are not called to be successful, only faithful. And that is the tension: to be faithful in God’s eyes or successful in the eyes of the world.



I believe it’s a choice we are all called to make daily.





Our prayer for this church:

Lord, we pray for Your Presence with this congregation as they begin the search for a new pastor next year. Guide them to the person whom You have chosen. Amen.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Zelienople Church of the Nazarene


Today we worshiped at Zelienople Church of the Nazarene, 115 Nazarene Court, Fombell, PA 16123, 724.452.9190, www.zelienaz.com, Scott McMahon, Pastor.





Scripture – Luke 13:31-35 NASB –



Just at that time some Pharisees approached, saying to Him, "Go away, leave here, for Herod wants to kill You." And He said to them, "Go and tell that fox, 'Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I reach My goal.' Nevertheless I must journey on today and tomorrow and the next day; for it cannot be that a prophet would perish outside of Jerusalem. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it! Behold, your house is left to you desolate; and I say to you, you will not see Me until the time comes when you say, ' BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD!' "





Bob’s thoughts:



This church was suggested to us several weeks ago and today God lead us here. We were welcomed by members, including the pastor who directed us to where to get a bulletin, the restrooms, and where to hang our coats. I enjoyed a pleasant conversation with an usher there.



I noticed no directional signage in the areas we saw. I was pleased to find a nice-sized cross in the sanctuary and noticed some upholstered chairs that matched the pews.



The sermon was developed around Luke 13, Christ’s completing His calling to go to Jerusalem. Maybe it was the early version of “fake news” when the Pharisees were warning Jesus not to come there.



The church seems to have a great location. I wondered what community outreach they might have besides VBS. There were a fair number of young people and one delightful baby to entertain me.





Jan’s thoughts:



We arrived with some time to wander around, but Sunday school classes were in session so our wandering was limited.



The people we encountered, including the pastor, were friendly and helpful, pointing out the location of coffee and donuts, the restrooms, and where to hang our wraps. Members continued to introduce themselves and extend warm welcomes even after worship.



The sanctuary is appealing, and I appreciated the plain, stained glass cross adorning each window.



The sermon from this Lenten series was called “Steadfast.” The big question it asked was, “What is the driving force of your life?” Is it Jesus’ agenda or some facet of the world?



A thoughtful question to ponder this week.





Our prayer for this church:

Father, we pray Your church continues to listen for Your call and that You bless the new pastor to Your purpose. Amen.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Lillyville Church of God


Today we worshiped at Lillyville Church of God, 408 Hickernell Road, Ellwood City, PA 16117, 724.758.8258, www.lillyvillechurch.com, Pastor Dennis Arndt.





Scripture – 1 John 2:18-23 NLT



Dear children, the last hour is here. You have heard that the Antichrist is coming, and already many such antichrists have appeared. From this we know that the last hour has come. These people left our churches, but they never really belonged with us; otherwise they would have stayed with us. When they left, it proved that they did not belong with us.



But you are not like that, for the Holy One has given you his Spirit, and all of you know the truth. So I am writing to you not because you don’t know the truth but because you know the difference between truth and lies. And who is a liar? Anyone who says that Jesus is not the Christ.



Anyone who denies the Father and the Son is an antichrist. Anyone who denies the Son doesn’t have the Father, either. But anyone who acknowledges the Son has the Father also.





Bob’s thoughts:



Although we were early, we didn’t tour much. I did find good signage and we were welcomed by the pastor and many of the members. Also, I didn’t have to hunt for a cross.



The chancel is a deep alcove with a round stained glass window positioned high on the rear wall. The low arched tile ceiling provided fine acoustics and the volume was good. I was pleased to spot the all-male praise team in prayer before the service.



We watched the pastor greeting folks and attending to many small issues, hope he normally has help with some of this.



It was interesting to witness the pastor present a children’s sermon to one cute little girl.



A clipboard was passed around to write a note of encouragement for a prison chaplain. At one church we visited, I lamented that jail ministry would be hard to do, and the next day I got a call from a woman I had been trying to minister to saying she was in jail. I think I heard God laugh in the background. I’m glad we could be a part of His recognition.



I believe the pastor is right that most of the problems in America today can be traced back to 1962 when the Bible was removed from schools. We need to continue to pray for a turnaround. The antichrist has been busy; it’s time for America to return to being a Christian nation.



Members were invited to come to the rail for prayer at the end of the service.





Jan’s thoughts:



A friend and coworker invited us to attend her church and today we were finally able to connect.



Arriving early provided an opportunity to wander around the premises. The first thing that caught my eye as we entered was a collection of items for members in the military. I was surprised to note there are 12 active members of the military listed by name on the prayer list…a surprising number for what I supposed was a fairly small congregation.



The pastor welcomed us and continued to greet each new arrival by name. Most of those we saw smiled a welcome, which is normal for a church with multiple services.



The lovely sanctuary has just one odd feature – a very deep chancel. My friend informed me the reason it is designed that way is to accommodate a baptistry in the far corner.



The sermon, “Fellowship with God,” was obviously a continuation of a series based on 1 John. Today’s message had to do with identifying false teaching in the Church and the characteristics of an antichrist.



Everyone was invited to attend a soup luncheon after the later service and my friend showed us where it would be. From what I could see from an upper floor, it looked like a terrific space for such events.





Our prayer for this church:

Lord, we thank You that You guide Your people back to You. I pray Your children are effective servants. Amen.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Bridgewater Presbyterian Church


Today we worshiped at Bridgewater Presbyterian Church, 408 Bridge Street, Bridgewater, PA 15009, 724.774.1454, www.bridgewaterpresby.com, Dr. William H. Silver, Pastor.





Scripture – 1 Peter 5 NASB



Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.



Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen.



Through Silvanus, our faithful brother (for so I regard him ), I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it! She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings, and so does my son, Mark. Greet one another with a kiss of love.



Peace be to you all who are in Christ.





Bob’s thoughts:



We were a little early and took seats in the back, as is our custom. Most of those coming in stopped to greet us or said hello from where they were, and many came later to extend Christ’s peace. Enjoyed the conversations and the great back scratch.



The wide pew spacing was comfortable as I could stretch out my leg when my knee acted up. A nice wooden cross got my attention.



The sermon, “What Do We Do With the Grace of God?” was part of a series and talked about how do we share our wealth in Christ by lifting others up.



As a Marine, the admonishment to be not proud, be humble, was a hard place to get to, and I still struggle at times. The similarity that as Christians we have brothers all over the world who are going through the same things we are, or have, or will be. Much like the Marines, we encourage each other and help or guide each other through.



When we were here last, I remembered the church collected canceled stamps for a fundraiser, so when I saw a bag of them I had saved, this seemed like a good place to visit. Plus, knowing the pastor is a Marine I thought we could share some of our experiences. It seems like God used that to get us here as they no longer collect stamps and the pastor and church were celebrating the 100th birthday of a member and elder and we didn’t want to steal time to talk. I was glad to share a few words and maybe talk more when we meet again.





Jan’s thoughts:



We arrived while Sunday school was still in session, so after wandering just a bit, we found seats and as members began filtering in, each welcomed us on their way past. We were warmly welcomed before, during, and after worship by a number of people as well as being invited to attend the luncheon in honor of the 100th birthday of a member.



We recognized some people, but our last visit was six years ago so much has changed in this very traditional church. One major change is that the church is now part of the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.



At one point there seemed to be some miscommunication about the next hymn, and I was impressed with the flexibility of the organist and soloist.



“What Do We Do With the Grace of God?” was the message title, and the focus was on suffering. No one wants to experience suffering, but it is how we learn discipline, direction, and strength. God uses our pain to refine and mold us. The pastor reminded his listeners that “powerful stuff comes from the suffering God allows.” I am in complete agreement.



The pastor encouraged his flock to share their painful experiences with others to help them overcome and find meaning in their suffering. He delved into some of God’s gifts, mentioning peace, grace, mercy, and opportunity. He stated that failure is not an excuse to give up, but an opportunity to forsake pride and move forward.



Suffering is not a popular topic in the churches we’ve attended, but I believe more people should hear these words. So many seem to think life should be easy and free of challenge. I don’t personally know anyone who lives that sort of life, believer or otherwise, so we really need to make peace with suffering and believe God has a good purpose for our pain.



  

Our prayer for this church:

Lord, You have blessed this church with a much-needed parking area, and we pray You will bring people to them and fill Your church. Amen.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Oak Grove Lutheran Church


Today we worshiped at Oak Grove Lutheran Church, 432 Harkins Mill Road, Zelienople, PA 16063, 724.774.6410, www.oakgrovelc.org, Nathaneil Christman, Pastor.





Scripture – John 4:1-42 NIV



Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John— although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.



Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.



When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)



The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)



Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”



“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”



Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”



The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”



He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”



“I have no husband,” she replied.



Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”



“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”



“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”



The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”



Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”



Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”



Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” They came out of the town and made their way toward him.



Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”



But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”



Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”



“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”



Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers.



They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”





Bob’s thoughts:



I pass this church often and had a feeling God was leading us here…today was the day.



The sanctuary is pleasant with a dark wood paneled arched ceiling. There is a slight alcove to the rear chancel wall displaying a round stained glass window which seems to amplify the cross on the Communion table below. I also appreciated the signage.



The Scripture for the message was Christ at the well with the Samaritan woman. It is probably lost on most of us what an outlandish thing this was at this time. The pastor related how this was mission outreach, evangelism, and relationship-building.



I was reminded of a biker church we visited in Ohio once. They told me that part of the reasoning behind worshiping on Saturday evening is they were free to visit other churches on Sunday but they were also free to go into the bars to witness to those who did not know they needed Jesus. They were doing what we are all called to do: tell our story. As much as I sort of joke about how much fun it was to bring people to Christ by force, I have had better results by sharing my story of how He claimed me.



This was one of the most accommodating churches for Communion: grape juice and gluten-free wafers were also provided. The elements were offered verbally and I was pleased to see the pastor served at the end.



I met a Marine during the passing of Christ’s Peace, which is always a joy.



There were a number of cute children, including a most entertaining boy and girl a few rows ahead. I enjoyed the voice of the young female who led the singing.



We were thankful for the time the pastor took to talk with us after the service and grateful for the discernment the congregation seeks for what God has in mind for His church.





Jan’s thoughts:



We were greeted warmly and regularly throughout the service and afterward. Upon entering we were immediately handed a presentation folder containing the order of worship, the list of hymns and in which book to find them, the Scripture reading, and the announcements. This was a unique format for this information.



The atmosphere is traditional with lovely stained glass and dark wood, including the ceiling.



Much attention was paid to the children, for whom there were special programs and who also took part in the service by ringing the bell in the tower.



The sole musical instrument was an organ and hymns were led by a solo voice, which was beautiful and enough. The hymns varied from the traditional (“I Know That My Redeemer Lives”) to the Children’s Message (“The B-I-B-L-E”) to the closing hymn (“Soon and Very Soon”).



The pastor pointed out in this untitled sermon that although Jews specifically avoided Samaria, Jesus specifically did not avoid it, He went right through the center of that land. He made direct contact with the Samaritan woman, who had been cast aside and left behind. But she then became an evangelist when she took her story to the rest of the town, asking her question “Could this be the Messiah?” Many came to believe in Him as a result of her outreach.



He stated that is what evangelism is, telling our story, sharing our personal experience, and asking questions that cause others to want to see for themselves and draw their own conclusions.



I was glad to be present for Communion and appreciated that grape juice was an option for the sacrament.



We also appreciated the conversation with the pastor following worship and hearing about the Community Garden that unites the congregation and provides outreach to the community for 3/4 of the year.





Our prayer for this church:

Lord, we pray Your church discerns Your guidance as to Your purpose and direction for them now. Lead them in their goal of obedience to Your call. Amen.