Sunday, January 28, 2018
Today we worshiped at Concord United Methodist Church, 285 Concord Church Road, Beaver Falls, PA 1501, 724.846.4739, www.celebrateconcord.com, Pastor John Phipps.
Scripture – Jude 1:17-20 NIV
But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. They said to you, “In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.” These are the people who divide you, who follow mere natural instincts and do not have the Spirit.
But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit,
We tried to worship here recently but got behind a state snow plow moving slowly. Today we were early enough to talk to a man at the door, and he caught up with us after the service and introduced us to the pastor.
I always think when we park in a spot reserved for visitors, that someone will notice. I did feel welcome by the smiles I got from some of the children.
There was an interesting cross in front of the drum surround. We worshiped in the social hall and there was a traditional service in the sanctuary at the same time.
I enjoyed the harmony of the praise team but wished we could have heard the females sing a little on their own. The projection screen is up high and I thought it would have been nice to project the children’s message up there. It’s always more fun if you can see the children.
The message was about keeping yourself in the love of God, and the pastor’s comments about well-worn Bibles caused me to remember some Bibles.
My favorite was an older friend who lamented to me that he and his wife tried to read the Bible together before bed but the language made it hard to understand. I gave them a modern version and in the few years before God took them home they never failed to thank me. It is most humbling to help a friend late in their life.
I remembered the woman in a Bible study whose Bible was a loose-leaf notebook and anything she didn’t like, she removed. Another who showed me her beautiful Bible that she had never opened. My Bible that I use most is probably less than 20 years old. When the duct tape that I repaired it with wore through, I covered it with aluminum tape used to hold part of a wing on airplanes and is now protected by my late son’s Bible cover. The most amazing thing to me is every time I read through the Bible, it changes to meet my needs at that time.
Having been out late (for us) last night, we opted for the 11:00 service this morning. We arrived early enough to chat with a gentleman just inside, find seats, and fix a cup of coffee. We also looked around some and noticed terrific signage.
This contemporary service is held in a fellowship hall with a relaxed set up: some chairs in rows interspersed with large round tables with chairs. There is also a traditional service at 8:30 as well as 11:00 in the sanctuary, so three services each Sunday. As is usual with a multi-service church, only a few extended greetings…people generally assume they don’t know visitors because they attend another service.
We anticipated loud music so chose seats near the back, but the volume was just fine and the music was excellent.
The announcements were presented via a narrated video, which I found interesting.
We were pleased to be able to pray for seven members of the congregation comprising the Romania Mission Team. They will leave Wednesday to spend 10 days serving the Lord in Romania.
The message, Keep the Romance Alive, referred to our romance with the Lord and was paralleled with the romantic relationship with a spouse. The pastor noted that the same sort of routine and taking-the-other-for-granted that sometimes happens in marriages can happen in our relationship with God. He recommended spending one-on-one time with God regularly, talking with God about the deep things in our heart, and listening for God’s response.
I am convinced this is great advice for any important relationship, and if we want to deepen our connection with God, this is the way.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we thank You for Your living word and all the blessings that come from it. Amen.
Sunday, January 21, 2018
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
Joshua 7:1-21 –
But the Israelites were unfaithful in regard to the devoted things; Achan son of Karmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took some of them. So the Lord’s anger burned against Israel.
Now Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is near Beth Aven to the east of Bethel, and told them, “Go up and spy out the region.” So the men went up and spied out Ai.
When they returned to Joshua, they said, “Not all the army will have to go up against Ai. Send two or three thousand men to take it and do not weary the whole army, for only a few people live there.” So about three thousand went up; but they were routed by the men of Ai, who killed about thirty-six of them. They chased the Israelites from the city gate as far as the stone quarries and struck them down on the slopes. At this the hearts of the people melted in fear and became like water.
Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell facedown to the ground before the ark of the Lord, remaining there till evening. The elders of Israel did the same, and sprinkled dust on their heads. And Joshua said, “Alas, Sovereign Lord, why did you ever bring this people across the Jordan to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us? If only we had been content to stay on the other side of the Jordan! Pardon your servant, Lord. What can I say, now that Israel has been routed by its enemies? The Canaanites and the other people of the country will hear about this and they will surround us and wipe out our name from the earth. What then will you do for your own great name?”
The Lord said to Joshua, “Stand up! What are you doing down on your face? Israel has sinned; they have violated my covenant, which I commanded them to keep. They have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen, they have lied, they have put them with their own possessions. That is why the Israelites cannot stand against their enemies; they turn their backs and run because they have been made liable to destruction. I will not be with you anymore unless you destroy whatever among you is devoted to destruction.
“Go, consecrate the people. Tell them, ‘Consecrate yourselves in preparation for tomorrow; for this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: There are devoted things among you, Israel. You cannot stand against your enemies until you remove them.
“ ‘In the morning, present yourselves tribe by tribe. The tribe the Lord chooses shall come forward clan by clan; the clan the Lord chooses shall come forward family by family; and the family the Lord chooses shall come forward man by man. Whoever is caught with the devoted things shall be destroyed by fire, along with all that belongs to him. He has violated the covenant of the Lord and has done an outrageous thing in Israel!’ ”
Early the next morning Joshua had Israel come forward by tribes, and Judah was chosen. The clans of Judah came forward, and the Zerahites were chosen. He had the clan of the Zerahites come forward by families, and Zimri was chosen. Joshua had his family come forward man by man, and Achan son of Karmi, the son of Zimri, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, was chosen.
Then Joshua said to Achan, “My son, give glory to the Lord, the God of Israel, and honor him. Tell me what you have done; do not hide it from me.”
Achan replied, “It is true! I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel. This is what I have done: When I saw in the plunder a beautiful robe from Babylonia, two hundred shekels of silver and a bar of gold weighing fifty shekels, I coveted them and took them. They are hidden in the ground inside my tent, with the silver underneath.”
Romans 5:8 –
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
2 Corinthians 5:17-18 –
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:
James 5:16 –
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
I am quick to admit it is a joy to be in worship with any of our grandchildren. They often bring memories of our times in church with their parents when they were young.
I made a few notes from today’s message before my youngest granddaughter crawled onto my lap to tell me stuff and color. I’m not sure if it would be better if I could understand everything she told me, perhaps not. One I did understand was a caution that we shouldn’t talk while Pastor Mike was talking…I believe that was for everyone but her.
When they were looking for people to sign up for areas in the church where members could serve, my grandson was quick to respond that he could sing. A few days ago, when I was explaining to a pastor about asking the shut-in members to pray for others who are ill and shut in and talking about the purpose and ownership that comes with participation, I was reminded of an experience.
There was a woman who attended regularly but was seldom involved with any other aspect of the church. I asked her to help by keeping the pencils in the holder next to the pew pads. Not only did she check and replenish the pencils, she started to participate in other areas of the church…she had ownership. Our children were the same, restacking Bibles, picking up Communion cups and leftover bulletins from the pews. There are so many things we never give a though to, but we notice when these jobs are not done.
We had the pleasure of joining some of our family again for worship this morning at the early service, so we got to sit with some grandkids before joining the rest of the grandkids, including the out-of-town visitors, for an early lunch.
As always, the members of this congregation were friendly, greeting us and others outside and holding the door as we approached.
As we entered the sanctuary I noticed the small tables were all off to the side, each with a display exhibiting some aspect of ministry within the church. During the announcements I learned this was an opportunity for anyone who was not already serving in some way to look into how they could best use their gifts and talents.
The current message series is entitled Unstuck, and this was part three, called Failing Forward. It began with a series of brief stunt videos that were paused for a few seconds so the congregation could guess by show of hands whether the person would “make it or break it.” The topic was failure, one everyone present could identify with through personal experience.
The pastor touched first on The Truth About Sin: it is a failure to obey God, it separates us from God, and it may be personal but it’s never private because it affects those around us.
He went on to list three lies failure tell us, each countered by the hope given to us by the Truth: the lie that we should give up, and the hopeful truth that God does not give up on us; the lie that we are rejected by God, and the truth that God forgives us; the lie that when we fail, we are just carrying on the family tradition, and the truth that God adopts us as His children regardless.
He advised that in order to overcome the inevitable failures in our lives, we must confess them and resolutely turn away from them (i.e., repent).
I hate thinking about the ways I have failed, but today I was grateful to be there for this encouraging, hope-filled message.
We had the deep delight of joining our children and grandchildren in the Lord’s Supper. It was an exceptionally blessed time.
Our prayer for this church:
Awesome Lord, guide us all in service to Your Church as we pray to humbly serve You. Amen.
Sunday, January 14, 2018
Today we worshiped at First Presbyterian Church of New Brighton, 1199 Third Avenue, New Brighton, PA 15066, 724.846.6144, www.FPCofNB.org, Rev. Robert W. Goossen, Pastor.
Scripture – 1 Samuel 3:1-10 NKJV
Now the boy Samuel ministered to the LORD before Eli. And the word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no widespread revelation. And it came to pass at that time, while Eli was lying down in his place, and when his eyes had begun to grow so dim that he could not see, and before the lamp of God went out in the tabernacle of the LORD where the ark of God was, and while Samuel was lying down, that the LORD called Samuel. And he answered, “Here I am!” So he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am, for you called me.”
And he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” And he went and lay down.
Then the LORD called yet again, “Samuel!”
So Samuel arose and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” He answered, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” (Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, nor was the word of the LORD yet revealed to him.)
And the LORD called Samuel again the third time. So he arose and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you did call me.”
Then Eli perceived that the LORD had called the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and it shall be, if He calls you, that you must say, ‘Speak, LORD, for Your servant hears.’ ” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
Now the LORD came and stood and called as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel answered, “Speak, for Your servant hears.”
We were redirected this morning, and since the heat quit working in my truck, we were happy to find a service that started soon.
This is an old Presbyterian church with outstanding woodwork. The dark woodwork frames the off-white wall where the wooden cross is displayed.
When it is this cold out, it always makes me wonder what it takes to warm a church this size for Sunday service.
The pastor serves a second church also, so it was great to have some time before the service.
The Passing of Christ’s Peace brought everybody to the center aisle and we were warmly greeted.
The children receiving a treat after their message reminded me of a pastor who did that with the idea that it would be a one-time treat.
The message, “Hearing Aids Needed,” developed from the story of God calling Samuel. He mentioned about a newer hearing aid that, amongst some other cool features, had a mute capability…I like that.
With Samuel’s response to God I thought “Here I Am, Lord” would have been a good hymn choice. Two of the songs today were strong reminders of our son’s death and memorial service, which God still uses to get our attention.
When He is calling, how do we answer? We have the opportunity every day to tell our story of our faith walk.
How is God trying to use you? Will you be quiet or will you say, “Here I am, Lord?”
We were honored to lay on hands for ordination.
A personal highlight for me was when I saw glitter on some of the pew pads, it reminded me of a sweet little girl who wore glitter to worship.
Because of a slow-moving salt truck we would have been late, we decided to go to a church other than where we planned, which is how we ended up here. Sometimes all I can say is that God works in mysterious ways.
We got through the snow and ice and up the steps, grateful to find the door unlocked and warmth on the other side. Not just heat, but a warm greeting from one of the few people there at that point along with a warm conversation with the pastor. Several other folks welcomed us as well.
I was immediately captivated by all the detailed, intricate stained glass and very dark wood throughout the sanctuary.
As we settled in our seats near the heat and looked at our bulletins, we noted two songs that were included in this Order of Worship: “It Is Well With My Soul” and “As the Deer,” both inextricably bound to our son’s death and memorial service. My first thought was, how could God lead us here knowing that BOTH of those songs were part of this service? But there was no denying He’d brought us here…there must be a reason. So I determined to be patient.
The sermon, “Hearing Aids Needed,” was a reminder that sometimes we need others to help us hear what God is trying to say to us and other times we are the one who can help another to hear God. The pastor mentioned that just as we are called to be the hands and feet of Jesus, in some instances we are called to be the voice of Jesus where we are given the opportunity to be spiritual guides by speaking words for faith in gentle but potent ways. He called it “engaging in faithful risk with words of hope, love, and faith.”
I was pleased to participate in the Ordination and Installation of Elders and Deacons through the laying on of hands and prayer for these servants.
I wish I could say I had a clear indication from God as to our purpose there today, but I will continue to be patient. God gives understanding in His own time. But sometimes I feel like I need a hearing aid.
Our prayer for this church:
Jesus, we pray You will use the members of Your Body with whom You have blessed this Church, and guide them as they seek to use their gifts to Your glory. We lift up their leaders as they work to discern Your will. Amen
Sunday, January 7, 2018
Today we worshiped at Nixon United Methodist Church, 334 Airport Road, Butler, PA 16002, 724.586.7372, www.nixonumchurch.org, Pastor William B.T. Gilligan.
Scripture – NKJV
Matthew 2:1-12 –
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 have seen His star in the East and have come to worship Him.”
When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born.
So they said to him, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it is written by the prophet:
‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, Are not the least among the rulers of Judah; For out of you shall come a Ruler Who will shepherd My people Israel.’ ”
Then Herod, when he had secretly called the wise men, determined from them what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the young Child, and when you have found Him, bring back word to me, that I may come and worship Him also.”
When they heard the king, they departed; and behold, the star which they had seen in the East went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Then, being divinely warned in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed for their own country another way.
Philippians 1:6 –
…being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ;
Jeremiah 29:13 –
And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.
I’m always happy to worship at a small country church and especially enjoyed the large stained glass and molded paneled ceiling.
There was a welcoming feel that was affirmed after the service when a number of people stopped to say hello. A special joy was watching a set of twins…it brought such great memories.
The sermon was the last of a series on unexpected gifts, the Magi from Matthew 2. So little is known for sure and much has been added to Scripture. An interesting thought that the decree to kill all the infant males up to two years old might mark the appearance of the Magi at about two years after Christ’s birth. References like “when they came into the home” seem to fit well with this.
I was not surprised that a Scripture quote used was one I read this morning, NAS Jeremiah 29:13: “And you will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” Frequently when we are looking for an answer, a sign from God, we will find a penny and the inscription “In God We Trust” answers for me.
I was having some trouble understanding some feeling during the service and our time with the pastor after the service made sense of it. I believe God was showing me that He called this pastor to use him to heal His church. I believe God will bless his efforts here to grow Christ’s church. This will be an exciting time and I look forward to the good news. I am thankful that God orchestrated this time together.
I misread the estimated travel time, so we were a few minutes late arriving. As we entered the sanctuary, I heard the pastor emphasizing to the congregation that even if everything else was cancelled, they could count on worship being held as scheduled. We quickly found seats and settled in, feeling less conspicuous when others also arrived.
The sanctuary was lovely, with mostly dark wood everywhere including the ceiling, and fine-looking stained glass. Being the traditional service, the only musical accompaniment was the piano which was given to support the congregation’s singing, although he played with obvious enthusiasm.
I appreciated that the pastor began each prayer with “Dear Jesus,” and before the sermon he prayed that God would mold the message into what He wanted “through me or in spite of me,” the pastor prayed. I think I’ve heard that before, but for sure I could count on one hand the number of times.
The message began with the topic of the Wise Men and a comparison of the teachings of tradition and the beliefs of scholars such as the Magi probably arrived to see the Christ Child about two years after His birth, that the Magi were not kings and likely not from the orient, but they were quite possibly Zoroastrians from Persia who studied both religion and the science of astronomy and were capable of connecting the Star of Bethlehem with the work of God.
The pastor emphasized that God is still doing things and in order to make connections we must seek God and communicate with Him through prayer and reading His Word. Since it is a two-way conversation, we must listen as well, and if we are paying attention, we may just be able to discern His hand at work in our world.
Several folks introduced themselves and welcomed us after worship and the pastor gave us a welcome gift from the church.
We enjoyed a lengthy conversation with the pastor following worship and appreciated the time he took.
Our prayer for this church:
Dear Jesus, we look forward to hearing how You will grow Your church, to Your glory. Amen.
Monday, January 1, 2018
Yesterday we worshiped at First Church of God, 1862 Mercer Road, Ellwood City, PA 16117, 724.758.7970, www.ecfcog.org, Pastor Phil Conklin.
Scripture – 2 Timothy 2:1-14a NASB
You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Suffer hardship with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier in active service entangles himself in the affairs of everyday life, so that he may please the one who enlisted him as a soldier. Also if anyone competes as an athlete, he does not win the prize unless he competes according to the rules. The hard-working farmer ought to be the first to receive his share of the crops. Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.
Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descendant of David, according to my gospel, for which I suffer hardship even to imprisonment as a criminal; but the word of God is not imprisoned. For this reason I endure all things for the sake of those who are chosen, so that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus and with it eternal glory.
It is a trustworthy statement: For if we died with Him, we will also live with Him; If we endure, we will also reign with Him; If we deny Him, He also will deny us; If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.
Remind them of these things.
We had extra travel time yesterday and God led us here. We were both praying for clarity as to continuing in this ministry and believe He orchestrated our visit here to answer our prayers.
We were welcomed by two greeters who offered information and a tour but for me the most welcoming gesture was a smile from a little girl who passed in the hall…that welcome was instant.
I appreciated the announcement that the church would be open on Saturday nights for those who wanted to come for prayer; it was always uplifting to be able to just sit and pray.
The sanctuary was a ziggurat-type: peaked in wood paneling to the underside of the steeple where there was a blue/green material that was probably insulation but I was hoping was backlit. I enjoyed the wooden cross.
The message was about our resolutions, and more importantly finishing well, raising the question “What have you done for Christ?” What have you endured?
Each time I question what we are doing, He quickly reassures that we are on track for His purpose for right now. It might change at any time, but for now we are to continue, and how He uses the blog is up to Him. I pray we finish well; may you also finish well.
We were pleased to have a few moments to chat with the pastor and his wife, thankful for their comments and that they are willing to let Christ use them.
In spite of a detour, we arrived early enough to wander around a facility that was larger than expected. A gentleman greeted us when we entered the building and upon learning we were visitors he offered directions to the sanctuary and restrooms.
In wandering around we saw Sunday School classes in progress, so we found seats in the sanctuary. I loved looking at the seasonal decorations though I’m sure this sanctuary would be pleasing to the eye any time of the year.
Several folks took a moment to introduce themselves and welcome us and make sure we received a welcome package.
A gentleman played bagpipes prior to the service and again during the offering. He said one piece was in memory of the 27 members who joined the Church Triumphant during 2017.
The pastor preached from the floor rather than the chancel. He began talking about the usual New Year’s practice of evaluating the past year and looking forward to the promise of the next, but pointed out the real challenge is to finish well. What counts is what we’ve actually done, not what we intend to do.
In the Scripture reading, Paul advised Timothy regarding suffering and enduring for the Gospel. The pastor spoke of the New Year’s-type excitement he had experienced – as do we all – when he fell in love with his wife, when they learned they would become parents, when he started a new job, and at the beginning of his faith journey. But when each of these life adventures began, the thought of suffering or endurance never entered his mind. And although they have been some of the best experiences of his life, and ones he would never trade, there have been periods of suffering and endurance.
As an example of suffering and endurance, he spoke of his father, who had been a Prisoner of War in Germany for 1½ years.
His statement that “Starting is good but finishing well is better” spoke to me, along with the rest of the message. Sometimes in this life even the best experiences require some degree of suffering and endurance. The hope behind of many New Year’s resolutions is that life will be easier, so this is a good day to remember these biblical truths.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray for endurance for Your church that You will be glorified. May they serve You well in the mission opportunities You provide. Amen.