Sunday, March 29, 2015

Grace Community Church

Today we worshiped at Grace Community Church, 56 Prestley Road, Bridgeville, PA 15017, 412.221.9000, www.gracechurchpgh.org, Bryan Thiessen, Lead Pastor.


Scripture – Acts 4:1-14 (ESV)

And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.

On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition.


Bob’s thoughts:

We had some early afternoon obligations so we opted for a 9:30 a.m. service. I was pleased when we got there early, but not so happy that they changed to an 8:30 start. With a little surfing on our phones we found a church nearby with a 9:30 service, but we had read it wrong and that was Sunday school time. We opted to wait for the service and I came to realize this church was one I had planned to visit.

We were engaged by almost everyone who walked by including a man who turned out to be the pastor.

I was pleased to find a large natural log cross on the chancel and others on the side walls of the sanctuary. The praise team sounded pleasing and the volume was right, although I did have trouble understanding the music leader when he spoke. There is a large projection screen above the chancel and impressive wood beams to the ceiling.

The pastor offered for those needing prayer to come forward, and again toward the end of the service for any who were accepting Christ to come forward.

I found no compromise in the sermon: there is one way to Heaven – Christ Jesus. I hate seeing this message distorted to avoid offense.

The pastor made an interesting point that those accepting Christ in Acts 4 were some of the same crowd that called to “crucify Him” and who a week earlier had called out “Hosanna!”

The congregation was encouraged to boldly speak Jesus Christ to all they meet.

I thought the sermon was longer than necessary, but maybe it was that he was preaching to the choir.


Jan’s thoughts:

This morning turned out very differently than I planned. The church we wanted to attend had moved their service one hour earlier than advertised on their website. This was treated with nonchalance by the members who told me, but after intending this visit for two weeks, I felt frustrated.

We were led not far away to Grace Community, which has been on our list to visit because of a newspaper article about the Bridgeville Community Outreach Center. I hope you will take a moment to check out this worthy effort at www.bridgevilleoutreach.org.

We were warmly greeted at the door and by numerous others before, during, and after worship. We were invited to help ourselves to coffee and join any of the Sunday school classes in session and to join the fellowship meal afterward. Unfortunately, my frustration kept me from being as appreciative as I should have been at these generous invitations. I apologized later and was shown grace immediately.

This morning was a lesson for me. Bob and I often mention how we were or were not greeted, and to us this is usually an indication of the friendliness (or lack thereof) of a congregation. Today, although the welcome was warm and genuine, it took some time for me to be receptive, and I suspect my lack of receptivity was apparent.

Today I learned that a welcoming attitude is a two-way street.

The message was entitled “The Exclusive Truth” and the pastor began by asking if there is more than one way to God and how we would know either way. He stated that Jesus and His resurrection were as radical, dangerous, and threatening then as it is now. The message of Jesus is offensive to many, but the truth is that God provided only one way for salvation, one way to be saved from everlasting separation from God, and Jesus is that one way. There are no exceptions and no alternatives.

Just for the record, some of the Scriptures used to back up this claim include John 14:6, Romans 3:21-25, Romans 6:23, Romans 10:9, Ephesians 2:8-9.


Our prayer for this church:

Father, we pray this church is filled with the Holy Spirit and boldly preaches Jesus everywhere You send them. Amen.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Restoration Church of Christ

Today we worshiped at Restoration Church of Christ, 1040 East Windhaven Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15205, 412.921.3231, www.restorationchurchofchrist.org, Faron Franklin, Evangelist.


Scripture – Luke 6:27-36 (NAS)

"But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners in order to receive back the same amount. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”


Bob’s thoughts:

We were warmly welcomed at the door and the woman there made a point of asking if we were visitors and introducing us to the pastor. Only a few others said hello.

I loved seeing a larger wooden cross with purple drape. The sanctuary is pleasant and the large wood beams help to tie it all together.

One of the opening songs was “It is Well,” an old favorite that was sung as we walked into church the day after our son was killed. The sandwich shop where we turned off the main road to the church was where was had our last meal with our son, so the song was particularly disabling.

Communion was reserved for those who had been baptized by immersion, but there were no words of institution or time for confession of sins, and the elements were passed silently. I didn’t miss it much.

We were asked to pray for our enemies and I couldn’t think of one.

The sermon dealt with forgiving and loving your enemies. It brought to mind a personal experience from before I came to Christ. I bought a used vehicle that was far from the condition it was represented to be in. The dealer refused to do anything about it and I took the car to the State Police to be inspected. It failed on many counts and the business failed over the ensuing investigation. Another time the result was even more drastic and I got so when someone wronged me I began to pray for them. God has dealt with these people way more harshly than I would have. These experiences were part of God’s opening my eyes to letting go of my anger and thoughts of retribution.

The congregation was reminded of upcoming Invite Friends and Family Days, and I feel compelled to suggest incorporating today’s sermon and also invite your enemies.

I forgot to ask about the church’s missions. We got to talk to the pastor after the service and learned a little of the history of the church and peaceful merger.


Jan’s thoughts:

The building is new, the location is new, and the name is new, and after the service we learned some interesting history about this church, which I’ll get to. A practical outdoor feature of the building is a breezeway which provides a protected spot to pick up and drop off passengers.

We were greeted at the door and provided bulletins along with an introduction to the pastor. Numerous other people also greeted us and introduced themselves.

The social room near the sanctuary looked useful for all sorts of fellowship events but today was used for coffee and sweets.

The worship area was functional with graceful wood decorating the ceiling and comfortable pews with plenty of legroom.

Communion was offered but we did not partake as the bulletin indicated that “Jesus invites all immersed believers to participate.”

The sermon was entitled “Living With the Enemy” and centered on Christ’s command to love our enemies. The preacher enumerated the Scriptural promises if we follow this command: our reward will be great (vs 35), we will be sons of the Most High (vs 35), and we will be like the Father (vs 36).

He also reminded that it is impossible to hate someone for whom you are praying. That is literally the only way I have ever succeeded in turning an enemy into a friend.

In talking with the pastor after the service we learned this church was born from the merger of two congregations that moved into new quarters together, both changed their names, and started over electing new leadership. In spite of the inevitable challenges, the marriage seems to be working.


Our prayer for this church:

Lord, we pray these merged churches solidify into one that continues to go forth in Your direction. Amen.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The River at New Heights

Today we worshiped at The River at New Heights, 2365 Wharrey Drive, Sewickley, PA 15143, 412.741.0598, www.therivernewheights.com, Mark Helsel, Campus Pastor.


Scripture – John 14:15-17 NIV

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you.


Bob’s thoughts:

While discussing which of two churches to visit today, we wondered why we were led to the one that was least practical for the next part of our day.

We were warmly welcomed and provided with history and information on the church, and directed toward the coffee. I wondered if others saw us talking with the one member and the pastor and that was why they walked past us.

The sanctuary was set up with stuffed armchairs with tables and chairs in the rear set up for a luncheon.

The signage was adequate and the building handicapped accessible.

The words were projected above the stage with good contrast between the words and background scenes that added to the music. The praise team’s volume was agreeable and the only thing lacking for me was a cross.

The sermon was part of a series and dealt with Christ’s last words before He was crucified. The pastor talked about some of our last words and regrets. Like Christ, we should have no regrets if we back off from the world and let the Spirit lead.

I have always said how little choice I had when I came to Christ; I was completely overwhelmed, changed so completely that I wouldn’t be recognized and people who knew me then still marvel.

It was a joy to talk with the pastor after the service; I knew our paths had crossed somewhere before.

There was a young woman greeting at the door who smiled as she walked by us near the end of the service. It may not seem like much, but it can change a visitor’s perspective of the friendliness of a congregation. It reminded me of a church where a three-year-old girl smiled at me as we were going into the building. That was the only acknowledgement there from anyone, yet I left that church thinking it was a warm congregation because we had been greeted by the minister’s young daughter and not even her father.


Jan’s thoughts:

This church has been on our list for a while, and today turned out to be the day to visit.

I was slightly confused about the location or I would have driven past it if not for the signage on the main road. However we were plenty early and so had time to look around and chat with some people, a couple of whom did talk to us including a woman who had been with this church for some time and was well-versed in its history.

The building is thoughtfully laid out with a contemporary feel to it, including two Keurigs (one for coffee and one for tea) at the coffee bar. The active children’s ministry was evident from the colorfully decorated rooms and hallways. The entry area was intimate enough that not much signage was required, but the restroom doors bore signs, which were helpful.

And then there was the sanctuary, which was so different-looking that I’m tempted to call it the worship space instead. There was no stained glass and no pews, which is not that different, but this large room was painted with soothing shades of purple and green with track lights for the stage and lamps elsewhere for indirect lighting. The chairs were contemporary as well: stuffed, with the backs and arms at the same height, so it felt like I was being hugged as I sat there. All the chairs were in the front 2/3 of the room and round tables set up in the rear third for a volunteer appreciation lunch following worship.

The bulletin was mostly announcements and quite attractively produced.

The praise band consisted of two gentlemen on guitars and one on drums. They had a good sound, but somewhat hard due in large part to the overly-loud volume of the drums.

I knew some of the songs, but the changing of the projected words was inconsistent and at times not in sync with the music in time to catch the beginning of a new phrase.

I loved the video that considered questions about the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives. As the narrator spoke of how the Spirit works differently in each person’s life, the person onscreen installed light bulbs into sockets….and each light bulb was a different shape, size, or even texture. It was thought-provoking and well done.

The message was then paused for announcements and taking up the offering, which I don’t believe I’ve ever seen before.

The message was part of the current series called “One Last Goodbye.” He mentioned that last week’s message emphasized that only one thing counts – love. Without love, nothing we do has any lasting significance. This week’s Scripture was “God sharing the most important things you can hear.” Could there be anything in the world more important?

He spoke of Bronnie Ware, a nurse in Australia, whose calling it is to care for people during the last 3-6 weeks of their lives. In her book called “The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying” she lists them as:
5 – “I wish I had let myself be happier.”
4 – “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.”
3 – “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.”
2 – “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”
1 – “I wish I’d had the courage to live my dreams instead of the life others wanted me to live.”

However, Jesus had no regrets and he doesn’t want us to have any either.

The pastor went on to give his personal before-and-after testimony about the difference the Holy Spirit has made in his heart and life. He ended by assuring everyone that the Holy Spirit will take you on an adventure if you are willing the follow the Leader.

It takes courage, faith, and commitment to live a life without regrets.


Our prayer for this church:

Father, we pray You bless the efforts of this church in their efforts to live for You. Amen.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Church of the Ascension

Today we worshiped at Church of the Ascension, 4729 Ellsworth Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, 412.621.4361, www.ascensionpittsburgh.org, The Rev. Jonathan Millard, Rector.


Scripture – NIV

Exodus 20:1-17 –
And God spoke all these words:

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

“You shall have no other gods before me.

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

“You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

“Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.

“You shall not murder.

“You shall not commit adultery.

“You shall not steal.

“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

1 Corinthians 1:18-25 –
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 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.

John 2:13-22 –
When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body. After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.


Bob’s thoughts:

We were invited to visit this church and I am always concerned that may skew our impression. Maybe people who would normally greet a visitor won’t greet us thinking it’s unnecessary because they see us talking to a member.

We were sitting in the pew before we saw the person who invited us, and other than the time for passing Christ’s peace, we were barely acknowledged. The welcoming after the service was warm and friendly.

The church building is old and exceptionally ornate with impressive wooden accents. I did find a few small crosses, but was hoping for something more befitting the grandeur of this sanctuary.

I thought the access to the modern education wing and other remodeling was seamless; the atrium-like connect to the new building seemed natural.

The Praise Team blended well and was enjoyable. One female voice was exceptional; I could hear the worship in her voice and see the joy on her face.

I appreciated the inflection in the second Scripture reading and in the sermon. The Scriptures came alive and mean so much more.

The sermon tied the three Scripture readings and included the Ten Commandments. The sermon wove around Christ’s clearing the temple and developed well from the passages quoted, tying in nicely with the Children’s Message as well.

I enjoyed watching the children present, especially a little guy in his mother’s arms finishing a bite of something and almost furiously signing ‘more’ but out of mom’s sight.

It sounds like the church has been called to minister to the youth attending nearby universities, a most significant ministry.


Jan’s thoughts:

I cannot recall the last time I was in the Oakland area of Pittsburgh, so this was an adventure, and we were delighted to worship with one of my co-workers.

As we approached the building we saw several sets of doors, all indicating which door was to be used as the entrance. The indoor signage was excellent also, and necessary in a building the size of this one.

There were other seeming little things that clearly indicated a hospitable attitude such as strips cordoning off the back 1/3 to 1/2 of the pews for the smaller service we were attending, a basket of bulletins in the aisle as well as in the back of this long sanctuary, and an order of worship that clearly laid out the liturgy and expectations of worshipers during a potentially confusing worship service.

The sanctuary was exquisite, with stunning stained glass, murals, and woodwork everywhere.

With three services, I was impressed that several people recognized us as visitors; however, most conversations took place during a fellowship time between the services at 9 and 11, which was actually just fine and allowed for longer conversations.

The untitled sermon centered on possible reasons behind Jesus’ overturning the tables in the temple. Options included God’s righteous jealousy for the hearts of His people or the offensiveness of using God’s temple as a marketplace. In the end, he declared that Jesus’ actions were designed to get the attention of God’s people and remind them of the First Commandment.

This is one of those messages I’d like to hear again so I could catch more of what he was saying toward the end. I appreciated the points he made but I was busy listening instead of taking notes. I do know that he ended with the admonition to cling to Christ, and I know that is the best piece of advice there is.


Our prayer for this church:

Lord, we pray this church continues to follow Your lead and answer Your call. Amen.