Sunday, December 14, 2014

North Branch Church

Today we worshiped at North Branch Church, 139 North Branch Road, Monaca, PA 15061, 724.774.0711,, Pastor Andrew Beery.

Bob’s thoughts:

I was looking forward to visiting North Branch as I still have fond memories of our first visit there when we heard the Rev. Dr. Richard Morledge. The message was so good that I went away feeling like the whole church was really Christ-centered. I also remembered the large wooden cross and a sense of the tremendous potential at this church.

It was disappointing to only be greeted as we received a bulletin and by two women after the service, but otherwise ignored. The only friendliness was from a few young children who smiled.

We were sorry to learn of the passing of the pastor’s father.

No Scripture was read and the speaker recited a nativity story.

Jan’s thoughts:

It’s been almost two years since our previous visit here, and this time we vaguely recalled a parking area across from the church, so we did not have to walk up the hill from the lower parking area.

We were greeted by several gentlemen when we entered and by several others following the service. Much friendly conversation went on around us.

Sadly, the pastor’s father passed away so the pastor was unexpectedly out of town. Consequently, an elder led the service and someone else (presumably another elder) gave the message: a reading of “A Walk One Winter Night” by Al Andrews.

Our prayer for this church:

Lord, we pray this church opens its hearts to Your message for them. May they grow in Your purpose. Amen.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Wildwood Chapel

Today we worshiped at Wildwood Chapel, 2850 Jack Street, Aliquippa, PA 15001, 724.378.7150,, Pastor Rich Liptak.

Scripture – NKJV

Ephesians 4:17-24
This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.

But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.

Romans 6:1-14
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.

Romans 8:5-11
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.

Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

Galatians 5:16-26
I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

Bob’s thoughts:

It still amazes me how much more connected we feel when we are warmly welcomed. We were greeted by a number of people, including two Marines.

The sanctuary is a wide arc with a great wood beam ceiling. The floor is sloped theater-style so it was easy to see the screen. The only cross I could find in the sanctuary was on the ceiling light fixtures.

When we first arrived and heard the volume of the praise group practicing, I went looking for ear plugs, but with the exception of the last song, I didn’t need them. It was good to sing some familiar praise songs, though I wish we could have heard the female leads. I also enjoyed the offering solo.

A woman shared a great personal story on Christ’s healing and her recovery.

The pastor talked about the songs we sing in our worship being for God…it was encouraging to hear that again. I really appreciated the pastor’s prayer for illumination, something that is often missing.

I thought the sermon was well developed and biblically supported with plenty of Scripture. Every time I thought the message was running a little long, the pastor brought up another good point. The congregation was attentive and the sermon seemed well received.

I smiled when he talked about God redirecting our paths, and how often He has done that to Jan and me.

The pastor moved around a lot during the sermon but there was never any echo or feedback.

Jan’s thoughts:

This church has been on our list for some time, and today turned out to be the day. The building is spacious with plenty of pews set in a circle facing the front of the large sanctuary.

As we entered and received a bulletin we were told this was nametag Sunday, which we learned is undertaken every few weeks. Numerous folks stopped to introduce themselves and welcome us, and I couldn’t help but wonder if the nametags had something to do with their comfort in greeting visitors. Of course Bob’s t-shirt attracted some other Marines in the congregation.

Plenty of time was given to greet others and many welcomed us and invited us to stay for donuts and coffee following worship. There were a few prayer requests and a testimony by a woman with a remarkable story of God’s healing.

I appreciated the pastor’s comment that the words to songs can give our spirits the words to worship God. I often feel this way.

The message, entitled “Two Natures in Conflict,” dealt with the sinful, fleshly nature with which we are born and the ‘new creation’ God calls us when we accept Christ as our Savior. He pointed out that whether the conversion is radical or gradual, the mind is transformed and how we ‘do life’ changes. However this transformation is hugely dependent on us and our willingness to put forth conscious effort to fight the cravings of the sin nature. We must run to God with the hidden things in the life of our mind and heart, things He knows already, but when we confess them barriers fall and we again experience a spiritual connection with God. We must choose to yield to our new nature instead of our sin nature. We must make a “continuous declaration of dependency.”

Something else that resonated with me was his definition of ‘living in the Spirit’: being constantly conscious of God’s Presence.

Of course, as long as we are on this side of heaven, our old nature will plague us. He proceeded to list five actions we can take to fight this spiritual battle:

1 – Humbly acknowledge the carnality in our minds and lives;

2 – Renounce the hidden things of darkness and confess them;

3 – Apply God’s Word to the situation; renovate the mind;

4 – Be constant; keep trying and don’t give up;

5 – Put guilt and shame in their place; “there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

I appreciated the concrete guidance in this message. Anyone who attempts to live in the Spirit has experienced the spiritual warfare he spoke of. And I agree that the battle is fought first in the mind, territory the Enemy is constantly working to possess. We must take this battle for our minds seriously and fight like our lives depend on it, because they do.

I was grateful for the time after the service to chat with the pastor.

Our prayer for this church:

Father, we pray this congregation is in tune to Your redirecting their journey; it is an exciting place to be. Amen.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Grace Church of Harmony

Today we worshiped at Grace Church of Harmony, 538 Main Street, Harmony, PA 16037, 724.452.7270,, Peter Everett, Senior Pastor.

Scripture – NIV

Matthew 22:1-14
Jesus also told them other parables. He said, “The Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a king who prepared a great wedding feast for his son. When the banquet was ready, he sent his servants to notify those who were invited. But they all refused to come!

“So he sent other servants to tell them, ‘The feast has been prepared. The bulls and fattened cattle have been killed, and everything is ready. Come to the banquet!’ But the guests he had invited ignored them and went their own way, one to his farm, another to his business. Others seized his messengers and insulted them and killed them.

“The king was furious, and he sent out his army to destroy the murderers and burn their town. And he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, and the guests I invited aren’t worthy of the honor. Now go out to the street corners and invite everyone you see.’ So the servants brought in everyone they could find, good and bad alike, and the banquet hall was filled with guests.

“But when the king came in to meet the guests, he noticed a man who wasn’t wearing the proper clothes for a wedding. ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how is it that you are here without wedding clothes?’ But the man had no reply. Then the king said to his aides, ‘Bind his hands and feet and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

“For many are called, but few are chosen.”

Romans 11:25-32
I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved. As it is written:

“The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”

As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies for your sake; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable. Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all."

Bob’s thoughts:

We were turned around in our efforts to get to where we thought God was directing us to worship, and when we gave in to God’s leading we ended up at Grace.

An usher asked if we were there for a family’s child dedication and we responded that we were just visiting; our only other conversation was with a woman who introduced herself after the service although I couldn’t help but smile at the friendly gestures from some babies I interacted with. My memory from our last visit was of a much friendlier, albeit early, service.

The youth pastor gave the announcements and asked visitors to fill in the pew card so they could pray for them during the week.

The music today was great, especially the violin.

The sermon started with a story of missionary efforts being redirected by God, which made me think of how many times – like today – when we have been redirected. We need to follow GPS: God’s Promises in Scripture.

Jan’s thoughts:

We visited the early service at this church just over a year ago and today we participated in the later service. Apparently today we were far from the only visitors due to a child dedication during the service. Once inside we were looking around and one gentleman paused on his way through the lobby area to offer directions to the facilities.

As we found seats I wondered how long it had been since I sat in a regular pew. Somehow it felt right to be in such traditional surroundings on this First Sunday of Advent.

The uplifting music was superb, helped along by the violin, two guitars, and another instrument just out of my line of sight. The special music for the offering was one that was new to me called “How Many Kings,” a moving song that I highly recommend.

I appreciated the sermon outline provided in the Order of Worship since this message, “Future Restoration,” was part of a series based on the deeply theological book of Romans. The future restoration referred to is of Israel, as he reminded that “God has everything in human history and in your life planned out to the last detail,” that “His promise to Abraham is irrevocable…when God says He will do something, it will happen for certain.” Final points included the strong reminder that “No unbeliever is beyond the reach of God’s mercy.”

At times we wonder what is taking God so long, what is the purpose behind the “delay” in whatever it is we anticipate, be it the resolution of some issue in our life or the return of Jesus Christ. If we keep in mind that, as the pastor pointed out, our salvation is by God’s mercy alone, perhaps we can learn to wait patiently in faith and gratitude, knowing that He is allowing what is best for us as well as for the rest of the world. Although we do not understand it, happily, this is easy for the God Who created the universe. “You will never regret living like you believed God.”

Our prayer for this church:

Father, we pray Your church recognizes Your redirection and that they continue to follow You. Amen.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Bridgeway / Allison Park Church

Today we worshiped at Bridgeway / Allison Park Church, 424 Duss Avenue, Ambridge, PA 15003.

Scripture – Acts 11:25-26

Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.

Bob’s thoughts:

It was interesting to get back to Bridgeway/Allison Park Church; the affiliation is very recent.

Through most of the service I lamented the lack of a cross. After the service, as we talked with the pastor, he pointed out the large wooden cross that had been hidden from our view.

We were warmly greeted when we came in, and we found the welcome desk had ear plugs. I saw the lead singer put hers in and did likewise, but it turned out I didn’t need them.

I made several vain attempts to get a question in at the welcome desk.

I wish the video screens were higher since both were obscured for me by taller people.

A few women greeted us after the service and wished us well.

The sermon was projected from Allison Park Church and presented by Jeff Leake. I thought he delivered a passionate message that was well supported scripturally.

I felt blessed to be able to pray for this congregation as they go through this transition.

Jan’s thoughts:

We opted for a nearby church as we get back into visitation mode.

The people were just as friendly as the last visit, several greeting us almost right away when we entered.

One of the personable greeters turned out to be the pastor’s wife; she informed us that the church was transitioning to become a satellite of Allison Park Church. Indeed, the printed material we saw and received all indicated this to be the case, and the website is on its way to reflecting this reality.

Prior to the message we watched a video showing 5-10 second clips of missionaries around the world thanking APC for their generous support in places like Kenya, China, Nicaragua, India, Indonesia, Utah, Tanzania, Thailand, and Pittsburgh. This was well done and would be a terrific type of reminder in any church of the good accomplished by their mission support.

“Faith Promises” (aka financial pledges made based on faith in God’s ability to provide) were presented to the church today following a message from Pastor Jeff Leake from APC. The message taught that God blesses His children not just so they can life a better life but so they can bless others, bring Him glory, and so He can use them to bless His hurting, needy world.

I‘m afraid it is far too easy to forget sometimes that we are blessed to be a blessing. This Thursday, as we thank God for all the ways in which He has blessed us, hopefully we will remember to thank Him for all the ways He provides for us to bless others.

Our prayer for this church:

Lord, we pray for Your continued Presence with this congregation as they complete this transition. Encourage them and bind them together as they grow in Christ. Amen.