Sunday, May 1, 2016

St. Paul's United Church of Christ

Today we worshiped at St. Paul’s United Church of Christ, Constitution Avenue, P.O. Box 252, Connoquenessing, PA 16027, 412.635.9558, Mr. Norman Tutino, Pastor.

Scripture – John 14:23-29 NIV

Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

“All this I have spoken while still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

“You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’ If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.”

Bob’s thoughts:

I had planned to visit here for a few years. Recently we tried and found we were too late; today we were more than a half hour early and waited. We were let in by the pastor and greeted by a number of people before the service, some of whom engaged us in conversation beyond just the normal welcome. This is a small country church.

The church had conventional pews, a flat ceiling, and some interesting tapestries on the walls.

It was nice not to have to hunt for hunt for a cross (on the Communion table) and to have an order of worship. I think knowing what to expect next goes a long way towards making a visitor feel part of worship.

The service was broken into sections…The Community: Gathers Before God, Hears and Proclaims God’s Word, Responds to the Word of God, and Departs for Ministry. I hope they worship by those guidelines.

The pastor’s message, “The Peace That Jesus Gives,” referred to our hospitality toward others. He referenced Christ’s questions to Peter, “Do you love Me? – Feed My sheep.” If we love Christ, we are called to act and do.

The Communion elements were offered verbally by the pastor but I missed an opportunity to serve because I forgot to ask if the pastor would be served.

It was encouraging to hear of an increased mission involvement for the church. I know God will bless their efforts.

Jan’s thoughts:

We found this little church last week in our drive around the area but remembered the start time incorrectly so ended up arriving extra early. The pastor let us in and then escorted us downstairs when we asked about the restrooms.

I noticed no signage but none was really necessary…it looked like everything except the sanctuary and the pastor’s office was downstairs.

Back upstairs, we found seats in the sanctuary and a number of people stopped to welcome us. The family atmosphere was apparent, and even more obvious during the announcements.

The unique banners all looked like various-sized tapestries, and the lights hanging from the ceiling had an intriguing geometric design.

The sermon was called “The Peace That Jesus Gives” and was summed up when he stated that we respond to God’s love by responding to the needs of the world. Even when it seems like a small gesture; little things make an impact for the Kingdom when they are done in the love of Christ.

Most of the congregation came forward in a circle for Communion as the pastor walked to the seats to serve those who remained seated. The elements were presented verbally and everyone partook together.

Our prayer for this church:

Lord, we rejoice with You that this church is heeding Your call to go forth in mission; guide them as they feed Your sheep. Amen.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Impact Christian Church - Beaver Valley

Today we worshiped at Impact Christian Church - Beaver Valley, meeting at the Monaca Cinemark, 99 Wagner Road, Monaca, PA 15061, 412.329.7128, Steve Hammer, Lead Pastor; Bill Harris, Beaver Valley Campus Pastor.

Scripture –

1 Corinthians 12:4-7 (Contemporary English) –
There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but they all come from the same Spirit. There are different ways to serve the same Lord, and we can each do different things. Yet the same God works in all of us and helps us in everything we do. The Spirit has given each of us a special way of serving others.

Mark 1:32-35 (New Century) –
That evening, after the sun went down, the people brought to Jesus all who were sick and had demons in them. The whole town gathered at the door. Jesus healed many who had different kinds of sicknesses, and he forced many demons to leave people. But he would not allow the demons to speak, because they knew who he was. Early the next morning, while it was still dark, Jesus woke and left the house. He went to a lonely place, where he prayed.

Philippians 3:13-14 (Contemporary English) –
My friends, I don't feel I have already arrived. But I forget what is behind, and I struggle for what is ahead. I run toward the goal, so I can win the prize of being called to heaven. This is the prize God offers because of what Christ Jesus has done.

Romans 12:1 (Today’s English) –
So then, my friends, because of God’s great mercy to us I appeal to you: Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer.

Bob’s thoughts:

What a great welcome…from the moment we came in the door we were warmly greeted, information was shared about the church and facilities, and we were given a tour of the nursery/child care areas. I was wondering how the children could be accommodated in a theater environment, and I think they did admirably.

The praise worship team sounded delightful together; I thought the women were particularly harmonious. With the attention to acoustics in the theater, the volume was just right.

We were given cards for a free coffee and encouraged to bring our drinks in with us. I could not find a cross but when you have to bring everything in and out again maybe it’s one thing too many. It is a blessing to be a church and not a church building. I thought the announcements should be on the screen as Previews of Coming Attractions, then maybe a cross could be projected also.

With the theater venue, it would probably be hard to offer the Communion elements verbally.

There must be a way of letting visitors know they are welcome to contribute an offering without making them feel obligated to do so. Visitors should not be dissuaded from the blessing of giving. I don’t know the answer, but non-members need to know they are welcome to give their offering to God.

The lead pastor was here to preach on part of a series about being different. The message developed well with scriptural support, and best of all it spoke to me personally. I love coming away from a message with something to think about that helps me focus and refine my personal ministry. God gives me a host of people to minister to; sometimes I think I seek them out but I know Who orchestrates the meetings and the venues.

I wondered if his analogy about soaking up Christ’s knowledge like a sponge with water and then giving it back out explains why some churches are still on mother’s milk sermons.

It is always a joy to hear Christ’s message through a pastor.

Jan’s thoughts:

It’s been quite a while since I felt directed to a particular church a day in advance, but that’s what happened this week. So, that’s where we went.

The gentleman who opened the door as we approached did not recognize us and cordially welcomed us then passed us along to someone else to show us around. The greetings were warm and genuine.

This is only our second time worshiping in a movie theater, and a great deal of work was obviously put into making this as comfortable a space as possible with backdrops, carpets, stretchy table covers, and tables with information all down the hallway. It looked transformed, and I almost forgot we were in a cinema.

Some of those who greeted us kindly took the time to show us the children’s areas, which were thoughtfully transformed and lovingly staffed.

We found seats toward the back, thinking the praise team might be at high volume, but the acoustics were made for volume so it was fine. The team had terrific harmony and the voices blended impeccably.

A first for me was hearing applause upon the announcement of the offering, and I interpreted it as gratitude for the opportunity to give.

Communion was slightly different, lacking the usual words of institution and with something like a prayer of confession but without actually mentioning confession of sin.

The message was part 3 of a 4-part series called “Be Different!” This installment, entitled “A Different Satisfaction!” explained why church participation can be frustrating at times and what can be done about it.

He began by reminding all present that God made every person deliberately and equipped each to do something particular and special in the world.

He listed Why Many Christ Followers Have Stopped Serving Jesus: the consumer mentality, the clergy system, the talent survey, and the never-ending commitment, and gave examples and details about each.

Next was, I Will Move From Frustration To Fulfillment By: Being Myself…i.e., knowing your personality and your spiritual gifts, and by Finding Balance: make sure you are learning enough and serving enough. He provided an excellent visual example using sponges to illustrate learning (soaking up knowledge and understanding) and serving (giving it back out again.) Too much taking in and not enough giving out leaves us saturated and unable to absorb more, whereas too much giving and not enough learning leaves us resentful of being squeezed. Balance is vital.

His final point was about Staying Focused on your one primary ministry and on your one primary audience: Jesus. True worship is serving Him.

I am grateful for God’s direction to this church today.

Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray this church continues to focus on what You are calling them to be and, like Living Water, take the knowledge they have absorbed and share it in their personal walk. Amen.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Church of God at Connoquenessing

Today we worshiped at The Church of God at Connoquenessing, 1247 Evans City Road, Connoquenessing, PA 16027, 724.789.0084,, K.A. Karns, Pastor.

Scripture – KJV

Jude 1-3 –
Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, to them that are sanctified by God the Father, and preserved in Jesus Christ, and called:

Mercy unto you, and peace, and love, be multiplied.

Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.”

Romans 10:13-17 –
For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.

How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher?

And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!

But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report?

So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

1 John 5:3-4 –
For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.

For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith.

John 17:14-16 –
I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.

I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.

They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.

Ephesians 3:17-21 –
That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love,

May be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height;

And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.

Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us,

Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.

Bob’s thoughts:

We were redirected past a church we chose, one we couldn’t find, and one that had already started, and when we pulled in this service was about to start. As we approached the door we saw three small buses leaving with children, but it turned out there were lots of children inside. We learned later the church has a program to bring inner city children here who might not otherwise know a church.

We were welcomed by a number of people, including the man at the door who pointed out the restrooms and sanctuary.

The unusual shape of the church and resulting multi-angled ceiling may have been the cause of an echo that made the speaker hard to understand, although the pastor came through clearly. The choir was strong and easy to understand, and for a relatively small choir, they sounded excellent. I enjoyed the trio of women who came forward to sing; they were great together.

The pastor did a sports analogy titled “Contending for the Faith.” He refreshingly stated that he believed all of the Bible. Too often we hear excuses or parts that are de-emphasized, although this made me question even more why I couldn’t find a cross.

I questioned if I heard one remark correctly, that you wouldn’t want one sin to keep you out of Heaven.” Only Christ went there sinless.

Jan’s thoughts:

We were early so we had time to drive around Evans City for a bit. The second time we drove past this church, we pulled in enough to read the sign and found the service was due to start in five minutes, so we went in.

The building appears to be fairly new, decoration was tasteful and simple, and many greetings offered on an ongoing basis, including by a sweet young girl who surprised me by initiating a conversation. The gentleman who held the door introduced himself and pointed out the restrooms before we even asked.

The music was provided by two organs and 15 choir members, and the amazing harmony absolutely filled the sanctuary. This was some of the most enthusiastic singing I’ve ever heard by both choir and congregation.

With no bulletin, I was grateful the pastor announced the title of his sermon: Contending for the Faith, in which he emphatically reminded his listeners of both the importance and the value of fighting to maintain he gift of true faith in Jesus Christ.

Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we ask You to help this church contend against the complacency of the world and remain steady in their faith. Amen.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Word Alive Church

Today we worshiped at Word Alive Church, 124 Scenic Hill Blvd., Ellwood City, PA 16117, 724.752.9575,, Senior Pastor Cliff Reynolds.

Scripture – KJV

Psalm 34:11 –
Come, ye children, hearken unto me: I will teach you the fear of the Lord.

Proverbs 19:23 –
The fear of the Lord tendeth to life: and he that hath it shall abide satisfied; he shall not be visited with evil.

Bob’s thoughts:

After a pleasant drive through an area I haven’t been to in a few years, we arrived in good time for worship. I thought I noticed frustration from one of the parking guides whom I didn’t see till we had already pulled into a spot. With such a large area, a visitor would have to see the attendant to know where to park.

Once inside, we were greeted and the restrooms and coffee were pointed out. I did not encounter any other Marines but I was thanked for my service.

I enjoyed the praise worship, especially one woman who sang a solo intro…I liked her voice and the fact that she smiled. I found it impossible to sing along as the words on the screen were seldom what was being sung at the time.

The message was laid out in three sentences on a handout and the pastor quoted many Scripture verses to support this summary. A descriptive line I liked: “Fear is a wholesome dread of displeasing God.” And another, used in addressing a demonic presence, “The Blood of Jesus is against you.”

We appreciated the opportunity to visit with the pastor and a few others after the service.

Jan’s thoughts:

We had the pleasure of worshiping with our son today and we were greeted almost continually from the time we stepped through the door until the time we left. One of the first ladies to greet us gave us a welcome packet and pointed out the coffee which we drank standing at the tables.

The building looks fairly new and is attractively laid out and decorated. Entering the sanctuary revealed a striking lit glass cross centered above the platform and flanked by matching pillars.

The bulletin presented numerous opportunities for worship and fellowship and an announcement indicated an active youth program.

The songs were new to me, but I enjoyed listening and the volume was perfect.

In the message, entitled “Reverence Brings Power,” the pastor taught that 1 – we must reverence God and His Word; 2 – Our nation needs to return to the fear of God; 3 – Reverence for God must include reverence for the Blood of Jesus. In other words, we are to honor God, His Word, and His Blood.

He advised that when we find ourselves in the midst of spiritual warfare, we should shout, “Satan, the Blood of Jesus is against you!”

He also quoted Billy Graham has having said that if you make much of the Blood, the Blood will make much of you.

This message will continue to be food for thought for me.

Our prayer for this church:

Father, we pray this congregation grows in their reverence for You, a healthy fear of God, and reverence for the Blood of Christ. Amen.