Sunday, December 9, 2018

Old Union Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Old Union Presbyterian Church, 200 Union Church Road, Mars, PA 16046, 724.538.8672,, Rev. Dr. Peter de Vries, Pastor.

Scripture – NIV

Zechariah 2:10-13 –

“Shout and be glad, Daughter Zion. For I am coming, and I will live among you,” declares the Lord.

“Many nations will be joined with the Lord in that day and will become my people. I will live among you and you will know that the Lord Almighty has sent me to you. The Lord will inherit Judah as his portion in the holy land and will again choose Jerusalem. Be still before the Lord, all mankind, because he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.”

Malachi 4:1-6 –

“Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves. Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty.

“Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.

“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”

Luke 3:1-18 –

“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar—when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Traconitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene— during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the country around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:

“A voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him. Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all people will see God’s salvation.’ ”

John said to the crowds coming out to be baptized by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

“What should we do then?” the crowd asked.

John answered, “Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.”

Even tax collectors came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”

“Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.

Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”

He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely—be content with your pay.”

The people were waiting expectantly and were all wondering in their hearts if John might possibly be the Messiah. John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” And with many other words John exhorted the people and proclaimed the good news to them.

Bob’s thoughts:

We showed up an hour early for the second time based on online information. Rather than wait an hour, we searched for a place to eat. We did eventually find the place we were looking for, but it caused us to be a few minutes late. Understandably there is no way to say if we would have been greeted.

I enjoyed the large wooden cross on the wall and an additional projection screen in the side annex where we sat. Signage was minimally-sized but adequate to locate the restrooms and sanctuary.

We were blessed to be here for a solo by a young woman and that the pastor got to sit with the congregation for a Sunday. I believe most pastors would welcome such a chance.

Thought the gentleman reading Scripture had an excellent recovery to a problem in the delivery.

We are called to complete repentance, not “I’ll try not to do this next time.” She quoted a statistic, that visitors decide to stay/return in less than one minute. Greet them that you don’t know, not just those you see every week.

We were once members of a small church that in one year took in 40 new members because someone spoke to them.

Mission and evangelism overlap, but one thing that works is to tell your story, one on one.

Jan’s thoughts:

We arrived during the announcements and quickly found seats in the back of the crowded sanctuary.

At first I was perplexed, as worship leadership seemed to be provided by different people from among the congregation and the choir. After the service we learned that, in commemoration of the pastor’s 25th anniversary at this church, the session had given him the opportunity to simply worship while they led the service. In the course of the conversation, he expressed his deep appreciation for this wonderful gift.

The sermon, Making Your Choice, was presented by a choir member. She asked, “What if John the Baptist (or Abram, Moses, David, Isaiah, Jonah, or Paul) had chosen not to do what God asked of them?” She quoted statistics indicating that just over 41% of the world’s population had not heard the Gospel in spite of Jesus’ Great Commission, and outlined five ways individual members could support missions:

1 – Pray, by far the most vital and most appreciated form of support.

2 – Connect, and make it personal.

3 – Welcome visitors. She offered the most recent statistic, that visitors to a church decide within the first 30 seconds whether or not they will return.

4 – Mobilize, and get others interested.

5 – Go. It’s not necessary to go to another country; you can almost certainly find people right down the street who don’t know Christ.

She closed with the reminder that we make a choice with every person we meet.

Several people welcomed us after the service and we were invited to attend the luncheon for the pastor.

Our prayer for this church:

Lord, we pray Your church will share their story and spread the Good News. Amen.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Christ Community United Methodist Church

Today we worshiped at Christ Community United Methodist Church, 205 N. Duffy Road, Butler, PA 16001, 724.287.4462,, Bruce Gascoine, Pastor.

Scripture – NKJV

Malachi 3:1-4 –

“Behold, I send My messenger, And he will prepare the way before Me.

And the Lord, whom you seek, Will suddenly come to His temple, Even the Messenger of the covenant, In whom you delight. Behold, He is coming,” Says the LORD of hosts.

“But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire And like launderers’ soap.

He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi, And purge them as gold and silver, That they may offer to the LORD An offering in righteousness.

“Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem Will be pleasant to the LORD, As in the days of old, As in former years.

Luke 3:1-6 –

Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene, while Annas and Caiaphas were high priests, the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness. And he went into all the region around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, saying:

“The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the LORD; Make His paths straight. Every valley shall be filled And every mountain and hill brought low; The crooked places shall be made straight And the rough ways smooth; And all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’ ”

Bob’s thoughts:

I drive past this church when I go to the VA and have wanted to show Jan the area and get lunch at a favored nearby restaurant. Seemed like a win-win to find a church that celebrates Advent.

It is a pleasant sanctuary with a modern low arch ceiling and light blue pews and carpet.

I checked and there is a large wooden cross behind the projection screen; I thought the screen might be up for part of the service.

They are planning for members to bring in favorite nativity sets for display for a Sunday. I thought of one of mine that includes some plastic zoo animals and Santa, that means a lot to us.

There were some square foil pieces on the wall like a crossword layout and today they turned over the first word: Prepare. Cute idea.

During the Passing of Christ’s Peace, a young boy came across the sanctuary to greet us with a smile and hand outstretched. There were a few adults who said hello, but his genuine welcome was special. When there are two service times, people frequently don’t greet people they don’t recognize.

We were blessed to be here not only for the start of Advent, but Communion and a baptism.

I believe the pastor was accurate in his reference to Advent as the “lost season” and many view it simply as a time to light candles. He had some quotes from a former pastor’s book and I think this line I liked came from there: “Do the good things and challenge yourself to do the hard things.”

Maybe God will direct us back for the traditional worship service sometime.

Jan’s thoughts:

Outdoor signage is a treat, as it allows visitors to determine the doors most likely to be unlocked. We entered near the Fellowship Hall to allow for something of a tour as we wandered to the sanctuary.

The worship area was appropriately decorated, of course, and looked lovely. I was especially fond of the shiny Advent banners decorating the walls. The super-sized projection screen allowed the display of words that were easy to read even from the very back.

When we entered the sanctuary, we noticed squares of shiny wrapping paper hung on the far wall. We were curious but there was not time to ask anyone about them. Toward the beginning of the service, a youth went to the front and recited a reading while the first Advent candle was lit. While this occurred, two others turned over some of the wrapped squares on the wall to reveal the word of the day: prepare.

During one of the announcements, members were invited to bring their own nativity sets to help decorate the church on one particular Sunday this month. I thought this was an imaginative way to involve everyone in the decorating.

We were privileged to witness a baptism following the Kids’ Time. After that, everyone was instructed to greet each other. Several folks nearby greeted us, and a few did so as they made rounds, but it was special when one youngster, perhaps 6 or 7, made his way over to shake our hands and welcome us.

The message, entitled Prepare, focused on preparing ourselves to experience Jesus’ Presence during this Advent season.

It was a joy to participate in Communion, offered silently by intinction.

Our prayer for this church:

Lord, we pray Your church is ready to follow You into the future, that preparation is complete and the time has come to act. Amen.

Monday, November 26, 2018


We both succumbed to a stubborn, worship-disrupting cough/cold, so rather than share it, we opted to stay home. We pray that you have been connected and blessed.

I have friends who seem obsessed with the weather, constantly checking the latest information from multiple sources. I notice when I state my narrow concern, “Is it going to rain?” the response is always the same: “Let’s check.” Perhaps it is better, more up-to-date, maybe just a chance to look at the Weather app, but it gives me pause to think.

People are always quick to quote biblical directives, whether or not they are actually from the Bible. This help is given freely and authoritatively (gospel, if you will), but not enough to check/quote the chapter and verse.

If we don’t look at the word of God, what are we citing? Are we helping or leading astray? Maybe we all need to check the app and witness for Him, making sure we are using His words.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Wayside Emmanuel Church

Today we worshiped at Wayside Emmanuel Church, 4437 Mitchell Road, New Castle, PA 16105, 724.652.6439,, Pastor Bryan Warner.

Scripture – NIV

1 Samuel 20 –

Then David fled from Naioth at Ramah and went to Jonathan and asked, “What have I done? What is my crime? How have I wronged your father, that he is trying to kill me?”

“Never!” Jonathan replied. “You are not going to die! Look, my father doesn’t do anything, great or small, without letting me know. Why would he hide this from me? It isn’t so!”

But David took an oath and said, “Your father knows very well that I have found favor in your eyes, and he has said to himself, ‘Jonathan must not know this or he will be grieved.’ Yet as surely as the Lord lives and as you live, there is only a step between me and death.”

Jonathan said to David, “Whatever you want me to do, I’ll do for you.”

So David said, “Look, tomorrow is the New Moon feast, and I am supposed to dine with the king; but let me go and hide in the field until the evening of the day after tomorrow. If your father misses me at all, tell him, ‘David earnestly asked my permission to hurry to Bethlehem, his hometown, because an annual sacrifice is being made there for his whole clan.’ If he says, ‘Very well,’ then your servant is safe. But if he loses his temper, you can be sure that he is determined to harm me. As for you, show kindness to your servant, for you have brought him into a covenant with you before the Lord. If I am guilty, then kill me yourself! Why hand me over to your father?”

“Never!” Jonathan said. “If I had the least inkling that my father was determined to harm you, wouldn’t I tell you?”

David asked, “Who will tell me if your father answers you harshly?”

“Come,” Jonathan said, “let’s go out into the field.” So they went there together.

Then Jonathan said to David, “I swear by the Lord, the God of Israel, that I will surely sound out my father by this time the day after tomorrow! If he is favorably disposed toward you, will I not send you word and let you know? But if my father intends to harm you, may the Lord deal with Jonathan, be it ever so severely, if I do not let you know and send you away in peace. May the Lord be with you as he has been with my father. But show me unfailing kindness like the Lord’s kindness as long as I live, so that I may not be killed, and do not ever cut off your kindness from my family—not even when the Lord has cut off every one of David’s enemies from the face of the earth.”

So Jonathan made a covenant with the house of David, saying, “May the Lord call David’s enemies to account.” And Jonathan had David reaffirm his oath out of love for him, because he loved him as he loved himself.

Then Jonathan said to David, “Tomorrow is the New Moon feast. You will be missed, because your seat will be empty. The day after tomorrow, toward evening, go to the place where you hid when this trouble began, and wait by the stone Ezel. I will shoot three arrows to the side of it, as though I were shooting at a target. Then I will send a boy and say, ‘Go, find the arrows.’ If I say to him, ‘Look, the arrows are on this side of you; bring them here,’ then come, because, as surely as the Lord lives, you are safe; there is no danger. But if I say to the boy, ‘Look, the arrows are beyond you,’ then you must go, because the Lord has sent you away. And about the matter you and I discussed—remember, the Lord is witness between you and me forever.”

So David hid in the field, and when the New Moon feast came, the king sat down to eat. He sat in his customary place by the wall, opposite Jonathan, and Abner sat next to Saul, but David’s place was empty. Saul said nothing that day, for he thought, “Something must have happened to David to make him ceremonially unclean—surely he is unclean.” But the next day, the second day of the month, David’s place was empty again. Then Saul said to his son Jonathan, “Why hasn’t the son of Jesse come to the meal, either yesterday or today?”

Jonathan answered, “David earnestly asked me for permission to go to Bethlehem. He said, ‘Let me go, because our family is observing a sacrifice in the town and my brother has ordered me to be there. If I have found favor in your eyes, let me get away to see my brothers.’ That is why he has not come to the king’s table.”

Saul’s anger flared up at Jonathan and he said to him, “You son of a perverse and rebellious woman! Don’t I know that you have sided with the son of Jesse to your own shame and to the shame of the mother who bore you? As long as the son of Jesse lives on this earth, neither you nor your kingdom will be established. Now send someone to bring him to me, for he must die!”

“Why should he be put to death? What has he done?” Jonathan asked his father. But Saul hurled his spear at him to kill him. Then Jonathan knew that his father intended to kill David.

Jonathan got up from the table in fierce anger; on that second day of the feast he did not eat, because he was grieved at his father’s shameful treatment of David.

In the morning Jonathan went out to the field for his meeting with David. He had a small boy with him, and he said to the boy, “Run and find the arrows I shoot.” As the boy ran, he shot an arrow beyond him. When the boy came to the place where Jonathan’s arrow had fallen, Jonathan called out after him, “Isn’t the arrow beyond you?” Then he shouted, “Hurry! Go quickly! Don’t stop!” The boy picked up the arrow and returned to his master. (The boy knew nothing about all this; only Jonathan and David knew.) Then Jonathan gave his weapons to the boy and said, “Go, carry them back to town.”

After the boy had gone, David got up from the south side of the stone and bowed down before Jonathan three times, with his face to the ground. Then they kissed each other and wept together—but David wept the most.

Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants forever.’ ” Then David left, and Jonathan went back to the town.

Bob’s thoughts:

It is always special to be greeted by a Marine at the door to the church.

Seeing the three crosses on the outside wall prepared me for the great wooden cross inside flanked by two smaller ones. We were warmly welcomed, including by another Marine, and a number who thanked me for my service.

I had hoped that we could offer to lay hands and pray over a woman who seemed to be in some distress during the service, but couldn’t locate her afterwards.

A recent sermon elsewhere dealt with friends from whom we should distance ourselves; today’s included some of the aspects of being a good friend. The odd part was both times I heard Christ’s message for me before the pastor spoke.

When Christ claimed me, all those I had thought of as friends left me, so that message was a little late for me. But I realized I was burdened just the same with too much stuff. Today it was clear that some of my friends about whom I have been judgmental are maybe those to whom I haven’t been enough of a friend.

We have a Friend to emulate in Christ, and I pray we are up to the challenge.

A member I spoke with was lamenting the lack of tithers. I would offer that there has never been anyone who was having financial troubles to whom I recommended tithing who came back to complain. You can’t out-give God.

Jan’s thoughts:

A Marine greeted us warmly at the door and others welcomed us as well as we made our way to the restrooms and then to the sanctuary.

The fellowship time was winding down as we found our way downstairs, and had we arrived earlier we would have enjoyed the coffee and donuts. It looked like a generous spread.

In addition to the three crosses we noticed on the outside of the building, there were three at the front of the sanctuary as well.

This traditional church and blended service included somewhat contemporary songs led by an organist and several women who exhibited a pleasant harmony.

The pastor referenced last week’s message about Ruth and Naomi and stated the takeaways: loyal love is important; we must be the reflection of Jesus; we must be an encourager; and friendships matter to God. Today’s message was Friends to be Thankful For: #3 Jonathan and David.

He pointed out that Jonathan was the eldest son of the king while David was the youngest son in his family and a shepherd. They could not have been more opposite, and their relationship of mutual respect and care could only have been orchestrated by God.

This message reminded me that I need to nurture the friendships with which God has blessed me.

Our prayer for this church:

Lord, we pray You will continue to comfort and guide Your church to new life in You. Amen.