Sunday, July 25, 2010

Highland Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Highland Presbyterian Church, 310 Franklin Street, Slippery Rock, PA 16057, 724.794.8410,, Rev. Albert Rhodes “Rusty” Stuart, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

Sometimes when I tell people that our drive for worship was like today’s 80 mile trip, they sort of glaze over. Mentally we are stuck in the memory of the neighborhood church that we could walk to.

We arrived extra early, but did not feel comfortable exploring downstairs with a Sunday School class in progress. We sat and read undisturbed for almost an hour. More than one person commented later that there were a number of visitors today. We were greeted in the Passing of the Peace of Christ and after the service.

I saw no signage, even to identify the restroom. The Sanctuary has a dropped ceiling and fans and there was a box fan in the rear that helped make it bearable. Since my heart surgery I do not handle high humidity well, so I was grateful for any breeze.

I thought it convenient that the responsive readings and hymns were projected on the large screen. The “God is good all the time” and then the reverse has become such a trite and automatic response it’s hard to believe anyone is paying attention to what they are saying. I appreciated the time allotted for Silent Confession.

The sermon spoke of testing the spirits, discerning which spirit’s leading we should follow, and to love each other not just with words.

It was the most unusual Order of Worship, not just that the offering was taken before the Word but that so much of the service came between the Scripture Lesson and the Sermon. It’s just an observation.

Jan’s thoughts:

We arrived about 45 minutes early, giving us time to look around before anyone was aware of our presence. We checked out the literature in the entry way then made our way toward what turned out to a sort of Narthex in the back of the Sanctuary with almost no wall between the two spaces. The carpet and pew cushions are the same mauve shade and the water color stained glass windows contained a surprising pattern of jewel-colored inserts.

Conveniently, a rest room is situated right outside the Sanctuary and straight in from the one entry door.

In spite of the adult Sunday School class in session downstairs we thought we might look around some without disturbing anyone. Unfortunately, when we got down the steps there was nowhere to go except into the room occupied room, so we headed back upstairs. About halfway up, however, a woman came to the bottom of the steps asking if she could help us. We thanked her and explained we were just looking around, at which point she smiled, said okay, and returned to her class without engaging us in conversation.

We sat in two very comfortable chairs in the Narthex and read a copy of the newsletter and some other literature. A few people said hello from a distance but no introductions were made until after the service at which point several people greeted us, shook our hands, and extended a welcome.

The service was very traditional except that, in addition to the printed bulletin, the Order of Worship was also displayed on the screen. The music was traditional and well done. The Time of Silent Reflection was a good length of time.

The Sermon, “Testing the Spirit: Is There Such a Thing as Truth?” was based on I John 4:1-6. It was brief and to the point: truth does exist…do not fear, but stand firm in the truth…God continues to redeem His creation. I especially appreciated the reminder to test the spirits. That thought gets lost in the day-to-dayness at times, which can only aid Satan in his schemes.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Southminster Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Southminster Presbyterian Church, 799 Washington Road, Mt. Lebanon, PA 15228, 412.343.8900,, Rev. Dr. Daniel B. Merry, Senior Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

We worshiped at Southminster partially to say good-bye to a staff member who is leaving soon, but I admit to the guilty pleasure of a Dan Merry sermon.

It has been a while since we last visited, and I noted some very positive changes – great new signage and color coding of floors. There is a welcome card in the pews with restroom locations and other helpful information for visitors.

We were visiting with a friend after the second service and arrived a few minutes late via a door near the front of the Sanctuary. We took the seats that Presbyterians never use in front and were blessed with a great viewpoint for the Children’s Message. Beyond the terrific vantage point to see the children, it was an exceptionally well-done message, simple, with interaction, and just long enough.

Dan’s message was on Martha and Mary. It was, as expected, an excellent and well-delivered sermon but included the one point most often left out: the “redemption” of Martha. When Christ came after Lazarus died, it was Martha who ran to meet Him and expressed her strong faith.

Jan’s thoughts:

It felt like we took a week off today by visiting a place with which we were familiar, but it’s been a year and a half since we were here last, and there have been some changes. One of the changes was signage, and what they’ve done was magnificent. This is a large facility with four floors, so I, at least, always found it very easy to get lost. What they’ve done is color-coded each floor so that the signs, whether they are stuck on the wall or stick out so as to be visible from down the hall (such as for rest rooms – yay!), all match the decorative color of the woodwork around the doorways and other accents such as picture frames. And the sign that greets you as you enter the main door indicates the facilities located on each floor in the color for that floor. Talk about color coordination – it was great!

Although some people from this church are friends with whom we’ve maintained contact, we were graciously greeted before and after worship by people who recognized us as non-members. During the Passing of the Peace some folks sitting nearby greeted us and introduced themselves.

The bulletin is a tri-folded 11 x 17 sheet, expertly produced.

I wished the Time of Silent Confession was longer…perhaps I just have too much to confess.

We accidentally ended up sitting in the third row from the front, so we had a birds-eye view during the Time with the Children. What a treat!

The sermon was entitled “Just one thing is needed…” and was based on Luke 10:38-42. This is the well-known story of Jesus’ visit when Martha complained that Mary was not helping her.

The message began with Dan’s observation that in the 30 years since he graduated seminary, fewer people are asking “How do I get to Heaven?” and more are questioning “How do I get through this day?” The solution was most clear in the parable with which he ended the message. It was about buttoning a coat with many buttons, and sometimes finding by the time you’re finished buttoning the long row of buttons that the coat is crooked. Obviously the buttons and holes are mismatched. But they’re mismatched because you started out wrong. If you start out right, matching the right button with the right hole, the coat is straight when you’re done. If you want your day to end right, you must start it right – by sitting at the feet of Jesus.

Life is like that – you must start out the day with “the one thing” that is needed. Then the day is much more likely to turn out “straight.” Amen to that.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Fountain Park Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Fountain Park Presbyterian Church, 8533 Peters Road, Cranberry Township, PA 16066, 724.779.2003,, R. Mark Plumb, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

Sometimes it is good to return to a church you are comfortable in, where you know the theology is right, where you will be welcomed and hear a good message.

Fountain Park is a smaller facility and we have commented previously on its unique attributes. There was an improvement to the signage since our last visit and the coffee available at the rear of the Sanctuary was enjoyable (in case my cardiologist is reading this, I had decaf). There is something special about being in church with our children and grandchildren, a sharing of our family with church family; our church family is just a lot larger than it was.

When we have children in town we want to take them where they will be welcomed and hear a good message. Christ used Mark Plumb for a well-delivered message that we all needed to hear on the existence of Hell and how to avoid going there.

Existing without our son gives a small foretaste of what it would be like to be separated from God, which is perhaps the clearest definition of Hell.

We were blessed to hear some positive remarks about General Assembly from the Executive Presbyter of Beaver-Butler Presbytery. I feel we have become so overly anxious to accommodate that the substance of what we believe is lessened. The lowering of our standards is only weakening the body.

Jan’s thoughts:

Whenever we have family visiting from out-of-state some of our visitors are under 5 years of age, so we like to bring them here to worship because we know it’s a family-friendly, casual, atmosphere with a nursery attached to the Sanctuary, as well as a thought-provoking sermon.

Today’s sermon was more than thought-provoking. Based on I Corinthians 13:12, the message was entitled “The Reality of Hell.” Next week Mark will present part 2 about Heaven, but this week he spoke of the realities of life:
1 – God made you to love you and wants your love in return;
2 – You were made to last forever;
3 – God has prepared 2 eternal places;
4 – You choose where you’ll spend eternity; and
5 – There is no second chance after you die.

He pointed out that Hell is an actual place that is devoid of God or any shred of goodness and that we could settle the question of our eternal destiny today if we decide to accept Christ as our Savior.

This is what Mark preached (and with which I agree). Following is my own thinking on the topic.

Refusing to accept Christ as our Savior means we are gambling with our everlasting destiny, and not only our own but the destinies of those who might have come to Christ because of our witness. Since we do not live in a vacuum, our lives and who we are affect others in ways we will never know this side of Heaven.

I say this from the perspective of one who this month will remember the 4th anniversary of the Homegoing of a child. I have the privilege of looking back at the events in my life that God used to bring me back to Him and thus to help my son know the truth before he left us. For that reason I’ll forever be grateful for every difficult thing God allowed me to experience so my son could know Christ before he met Him face to face.

So, pay attention to what God is trying to show you. You never know what fruit He intends to bring from it.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

First United Presbyterian Church of Crafton Heights

Today we worshiped at The First United Presbyterian Church of Crafton Heights, 50 Stratmore Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15205, 412.921.6153,, Rev. David B. Carver, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

We are familiar with CHUP and made a visit to see our friend Dave before he left on sabbatical. We keep in touch via newsletters and email and were looking forward to seeing what was new at CHUP.

I have often used CHUP as an example of a church following Christ’s direction for them. They were called some time ago to minister to the youth in their neighborhood. I have told many times of when I worshiped there and counted 35 youth worshiping without their parents because the parents were not churched. I was introduced to some of those parents when they started attending with their children, so fulfilling the Scripture that “a little child shall lead them.” I have a strong feeling that this is part of God’s purpose for the sabbatical for Dave and this church – a time of reflection on Christ’s work at CHUP going forward. I think this will be an exciting time in close contact with Jesus.

There are a lot of improvements to make the church building work better for the congregation: updated fellowship hall, installation of an elevator, a renovated nursery, establish a welcome/coffee area, and a real improvement in signage.

The worship team met for a moment of prayer before the service. There is a brass cross on the Communion table and a rustic wood cross on the wall. We were blessed to witness two baptisms and enjoyed a talented brass ensemble.

The congregation’s Confession of Faith during the baptism was the Apostle’s Creed broken out into individual statements of faith.

The sermon was woven around our ability/inability to focus on things close and most important to us, relating our faith focus to a new focus for old eyes. We struggle with our expectations we react to what they were. With our eyes, as with our faith, we need to be sure of reality.

I think CHUP is more balanced than most churches, with a good sense of mission, ministry to their members, and maintenance of the meeting space. I sensed a strong presence of Christ, enthusiasm in praising God in song, and a warm welcome extended to visitors.

Jan’s thoughts:

We have worshiped at this church many times but not for about two years. Since we were last here they have completed numerous renovations, so I was able to look through the eyes of a near-stranger…except when looking at the people.

This church is one of the few points of stability in an otherwise rocky neighborhood, and they seem able to balance internal needs with outward-focused mission, much of it aimed toward the immediate area. They are a friendly, loving congregation with a wonderful genuineness about them. There are no pretentious airs of imagined importance, just open honesty.

This particular weekend was an exciting one for this church since one of their own was married here yesterday. Apparently members of the groom’s family are musically gifted, so they offered their talents by participating in the worship service this morning. And we were blessed to be present not only for that but for the baptism of two little ones as well.

Much of the music was contemporary, which I find uplifting, but there were a couple of good older hymns as well (“Eternal Father, Strong To Save” and “God of Our Fathers” – perfect for a brass ensemble like the group visiting today!).

We sat almost half-way back on one side (this Sanctuary has two aisles) and were hopeful that the brass music wouldn’t be too loud for us. They weren’t; however the volume of the piano came close to being a problem. I’ve never heard a piano that loud before.

The bulletin contained two different-colored 8 ½ x 5 ½ sheets inside a single tri-folded 11 x 17 sheet that included the Order of Worship, announcements, calendar, and a guide to daily devotional time for the week.

I enjoyed the imaginative Children’s Sermon. Dave had the children come forward and he escorted them into his study immediately off the Chancel. At that point he and the children were out of the sight of the congregation but Dave’s voice could be heard over the speakers. He pointed out that everything in his study was packed up in boxes and while he was on sabbatical (beginning tomorrow) people would come in and make some repairs and do some painting. Then when Dave returns in October his study will look different. He said the kids would look different too, and that Dave would seem different when he returns as well. I thought it was such a tender way to prepare the young ones for his impending absence and the inevitable changes.

We often think we are worshiping at a particular church for some purpose we have in mind, but, as usual, God had other reasons. We were glad to be able to say bon voyage to Dave Carver, but when I heard the sermon I knew another purpose for which God had brought us here.

The message, entitled “Treating Presbyopia,” was based on Ephesians 1:15-23. Dave’s self-deprecating humor helps the congregation hear the Word, and today I heard it loud and clear: “When we lose the ability to focus on things close to us” and “react to a memory of how a person used to be, some of what we’re sure of isn’t true and much of what we fear will never become reality.” He pointed out that, unlike the medical diagnosis of a physical case of presbyopia, what Dave called “spiritual presbyopia” is entirely curable. The prescription is more of Christ through prayer and His Word.

I am grateful to God for the opportunity to again worship with many friends at this church, to extend good wishes and prayers to a wonderful pastor, and for the chance to hear a sermon message that was aimed straight at my heart.