Sunday, September 14, 2014

Bakerstown Alliance Church

Today we worshiped at Bakerstown Alliance Church, 4030 Bakerstown Road, Gibsonia, PA 15044, 724.443.7040,, Pastor Vern Borchert.

Scripture – Proverbs 30:8-9

Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.

Bob’s thoughts:

Our arrival just as the service started eliminated any opportunity to exchange greetings.

The church had a warm feel to it, like a country chapel, and I appreciated the large wooden cross on the chancel wall.

The singer/keyboard musician was enjoyable, and the woman in the front row interpreting the songs in sign language brought back a significant memory of when our daughter did the same thing. When our daughter signed the Lord’s Prayer I never could stay all the way through it.

My guess is these folks have worshiped together for a long time: when prayer requests were made, often someone added to or clarified the request.

The sermon was about greed, but the very personal story the pastor shared – along with the time he spent telling about the loss of a friend – made me think he needed prayer, so that is how I spent the time.

Most of the congregation stayed for a meeting after church so we did not get to visit with them.

Jan’s thoughts:

Unfortunately we were a few minutes late arriving, but an usher immediately handed us bulletins and we found seats while we joined partway through a song.

Musical leadership was provided by a talented gentleman who played the keyboard and sang.

The sanctuary was the only part we saw of the interior of the building, but it boasted a huge wooden cross, a stone chancel wall, white frosted windows topped with a decorative triangle of frosted purple glass, and, with only 3 walls, a very open feel.

The pastor spoke at length about a member whose memorial service was held yesterday after which the prayer requests took a good deal of time as everyone seemed to know all about everyone else.

The message was entitled “Greed” and I was a little confused when the stated Scripture was not read or even referred to. The point was that “greed is a disease that stems from worry and if we allow worry to control our lives we will end up choosing to have security at any price. The cure for greed is to sell/give away what controls you.”

Our prayer for this church:

Lord, we pray the heart of this congregation will be receptive to Your leading. May they grow in Your service. Amen.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Waverly Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Waverly Presbyterian Church, 590 South Braddock Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15221, 412.242.0643,, Rev. Rebecca Hickock, Pastor.

Scripture – Jeremiah 29:1-9

This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. (This was after King Jehoiachin and the queen mother, the court officials and the leaders of Judah and Jerusalem, the skilled workers and the artisans had gone into exile from Jerusalem.) He entrusted the letter to Elasah son of Shaphan and to Gemariah son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to King Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon. It said:

This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord.

Bob’s thoughts:

It never fails to amaze me how God tweaks our church visit efforts. We had hoped for Jan to reacquaint with the pastor, but instead we met the student pastor and prepared to worship. During the Passing of the Peace a young lady introduced herself as a girl we knew from a youth group years ago.

It was a difficult place to find our way around as signage was lacking.

The sanctuary is long and narrow with an exceptionally high ceiling, or so it seems, at least. It was interesting later when a soloist filled the sanctuary to the roof timbers with her rendition of the 23rd Psalm.

I appreciated that the student pastor repeated the prayer requests so the congregation could hear.

Maybe we sat too far forward, but for me a lot of the sermon was lost to the echo. It dealt with her time in Scotland and incarnational ministries: we must be intentional in bringing Christ to the people and somehow get past our desire for the reverse.

She made the interesting point that Christ grew into adulthood before starting His ministry. People knew Him and He knew them and how to minister to them.

Jan’s thoughts:

I am fairly certain I have never been to his area before so it seemed somewhat like visiting another country…an appropriate feeling as it turned out.

I was looking forward to catching up with the pastor, a friend I have not seen for some time, and at first was disappointed that she was away. Instead we discovered a friend from another church who had moved to this area and we met some new friends as well. Many people greeted us, introduced themselves, and even gave us hugs. One gentleman took the time to talk with us about the history of this older structure.

The intricate stained glass is a sight to behold and an important part of the heritage of this church.

If the choir is as musically gifted as those who led the singing and presented the solos today, I imagine they are exceptional.

Student Pastor Rachel Riggle offered the untitled message based on her trip to Scotland with World Mission Initiative. From this sermon I learned that only 2% of the Scottish population attends church and that many are 3rd and 4th generation unchurched. Prior to her visit she had expected to hear sad stories about how the church was deserted, but instead she heard a message of hope.

Through the Fresh Expressions Movement, churches there have stopped trying to attract new members and are being incarnational, programming for and ministering to those who are there, with the result that those who witness this being the church want to become part of it. They are bringing Jesus to the people instead of trying to bring the people to Jesus.

I appreciated the humor, optimism, and passion with which this message was imparted. I admit I am unfamiliar with the culture in which the church exists in this area of the world, and my unfamiliarity with this part of this city brought this point home for me.

Our prayer for this church:

Lord, we pray this church can step out in faith and take You to the people in the neighborhood. Help them to know how to minister in Your Name. Amen.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Lillyville Church of God

Today we worshiped at Lillyville Church of God, 408 Hickernell Road, Ellwood City, PA 16117, 724.758.8258,, Pastor Dennis Arndt.

Scripture – NIV

This is the word the Lord spoke through Jeremiah the prophet concerning Babylon and the land of the Babylonians:

“Announce and proclaim among the nations, lift up a banner and proclaim it; keep nothing back, but say, ‘Babylon will be captured; Bel will be put to shame, Marduk filled with terror. Her images will be put to shame and her idols filled with terror.’ A nation from the north will attack her and lay waste her land. No one will live in it; both people and animals will flee away.

“In those days, at that time,” declares the Lord, “the people of Israel and the people of Judah together will go in tears to seek the Lord their God.

They will ask the way to Zion and turn their faces toward it. They will come and bind themselves to the Lord in an everlasting covenant that will not be forgotten.

“My people have been lost sheep; their shepherds have led them astray and caused them to roam on the mountains. They wandered over mountain and hill and forgot their own resting place. Whoever found them devoured them; their enemies said, ‘We are not guilty, for they sinned against the Lord, their verdant pasture, the Lord, the hope of their ancestors.’

“Flee out of Babylon; leave the land of the Babylonians, and be like the goats that lead the flock. For I will stir up and bring against Babylon an alliance of great nations from the land of the north. They will take up their positions against her, and from the north she will be captured. Their arrows will be like skilled warriors who do not return empty-handed. So Babylonia will be plundered; all who plunder her will have their fill,” declares the Lord.

“Because you rejoice and are glad, you who pillage my inheritance, because you frolic like a heifer threshing grain and neigh like stallions, your mother will be greatly ashamed; she who gave you birth will be disgraced. She will be the least of the nations— a wilderness, a dry land, a desert.

Bob’s thoughts:

This church is located in a scenic locale with a larger campus than I expected, but the sanctuary was more quaint and country-sized. I appreciated the suspended wooden cross and round stained glass window in the chancel alcove and the interesting banner shouting “Come Holy Spirit.”

We were warmly welcomed by quite a few people.

The message, “The Lord Destroys Wicked Nations,” is a good one to take to heart as we seem determined as a nation to go downhill.

Babylon was surprised that they were not invincible: they were attacked and overwhelmed almost overnight, the attack undetected until too late. From a military standpoint I have often admired Biblical battle plans and how human smugness in not needing God always leads to downfall. I pray our nation soon reaches the point of asking “What were we thinking?”

I was very grateful to have the pastor anoint me and, along with others, lay hands and pray for me.

Jan’s thoughts:

We appreciated the large signs at the main road…they were hugely helpful.

The warm greetings began in the parking lot and after we were inside they just kept coming. Numerous people welcomed us genuinely and openly.

The building is larger than expected, well cared-for, and aesthetically pleasing with a chancel that would have been surprisingly deep at half what it was; but the paint and the large ornate banner were perfect complements. I also appreciated the unique multi-colored paraments.

The message, “The Lord Destroys Wicked Nations,” was based on Jeremiah 50:1-12. He interspersed much of Daniel 4 and 5 in explaining the overnight fall of Babylon, and reminding that God was at work in the midst of the chaos.

To a large degree our country, indeed our world, seems to be immersed in chaos that is much the same. And I am convinced that God’s purpose is the same now as it was then: to bring people to faith in Christ.

For more than 50 years our country has been testing the waters of self-sufficiency in the hope that the god of science or self or some other entity could somehow figure out how to make things right. I pray the Voice of Truth will soon make itself heard above the din of idolatry before God’s patience is exhausted and we fall as Babylon did. And the fault will lie with us alone.

It has been a while since I was present for anointing with oil and laying on of hands and prayers for healing, and I was deeply touched that a congregation to whom we were strangers only a few hours earlier would do this for Bob.

Our prayer for this church:

Father, we pray this congregation will continue to make You known, and that they all will enjoy You together. Amen.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Northbridge Community Church

Today we worshiped at Northbridge Community Church, 216 Mystic Pine Trail, Cranberry Twp., PA 16066, 724.371.1180,, Jame Price, Lead Pastor.

Scripture – NIV

Romans 3:21-25
But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Romans 3:27
Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith.

Bob’s thoughts:

There seemed to be far fewer people in worship here than I remembered; for many maybe a last vacation before back-to-school.

The music overpowered my earplugs so I stepped out of the sanctuary; I thought if I acted like a visitor someone might say hello. I was greeted by the parking attendant and the woman who held the door.

Andy Stanley’s message was a post script to some recent messages we have heard. We have been reminded that all sorts of people will be in heaven, and Andy’s message today talked about a church of reconciliation.

Every church has a church culture designed for church people, but the real truth is the common denominator: “for all have sinned”… none of us are better than others or closer to God than others, only that we are all justified by Christ.

It came to me with this that a lot of churches might want to rethink their membership classes; many are pre-occupied with “we’ve always done it this way.”

I liked the restroom signs that were timelines of coming events, not just church events but secular also.

Jan’s thoughts:

There is much that is welcoming about Northpoint such as friendly people who direct the parking efforts outside, friendly folks who hold the door open when you approach, and more friendly individuals who extend greetings between the entry door and the door to the sanctuary, and even inside the sanctuary. I was glad some members of our family were there to talk to though, because as much friendliness as we encountered, there was still no one to talk to.

The music was high-volume and well done, as always, and a spotlight of encouragement was pointed on volunteers.

I very much enjoy Andy Stanley’s messages. He is comfortable, animated, talks fast and sometimes stutters, but he comes across as genuine, humble, and honest.

Today’s message is hard to put into just a few words because it was about a lot of things: the culture in churches, the fact that every person who ever walked the earth – with the exception of Jesus Christ – has been unable to live up to God’s standard, and that God did something about it by sending His Son to die in our place. Andy called this “God’s buy-back program” and pointed out that it leveled the playing field.

He noted that “if the message of the church is for everybody, the culture of the church shouldn’t exclude anybody.”

He followed with a personal story about an exceptional friend whom he attempted to guide to faith in Christ and how in the process he himself became aware of the culture of the church in which he grew up.

I believe he is right on the money about church cultures being designed for church people, and I think most church people are oblivious to it. I know I was. I belonged to the same church for 30+ years, and I thought it was a friendly church that anyone could walk into and feel right at home. And I thought the same about the second church I belonged to. But after visiting churches for nearly 6 years now, I would say that every church has a culture whether they know it or not, and no church culture will “fit” everyone no matter how hard they try. Not in this world at least.

Is it good for a church culture to be so flexible that change is constant? I don’t know the answer to that, but it looks like this church may be aiming to find out.

Our prayer for this church:

Father, we pray we remember that our common denominator with all mankind is our sinfulness. Thanks be to God for our justification through faith in Christ. Amen.