Sunday, April 24, 2011

Southminster Presbyterian Church

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


Bob’s thoughts:

As the weekend nears and we begin to think about where we will worship, sometimes when the choice doesn’t come easily I remember that the choice is God’s, not ours. That’s when I like to say the church has chosen us.

We were in need of a good spiritual message and started in the general direction we believed we were to head. That’s when we were gently nudged toward Southminster, and God blessed us there. I had an opportunity to share a witness with someone before the service, and we both came away better. I believe that witnessing always benefits both participants.

We were able to catch up with some friends, enjoy the many children present and their message, and God spoke to me in Dan’s sermon. Today Christ used the pastor to give me a personal message, and when I heard God speak to me in the sermon I was ready to applaud or offer a very un-Presbyterian “Amen!”

What made worship truly special was the unquestionable presence of Christ in the Sanctuary and the love of life in the congregation.


Jan’s thoughts:
It’s always a joy to visit Southminster, even more so on a day of rejoicing such as this. It’s a delight to see friends I seldom see, to meet new friends, to hear an outstanding choir, bells, and brass, and, of course, a sermon that causes me to think. I leave changed, and I’m grateful.
Today’s sermon was entitled “Can you see Easter?” and was based on Luke 24:1-12. I loved the story of the pastor who had placed a crown of thorns on the altar on Good Friday only to find on Easter morning that it had blossomed into beautiful flowers. What a great visual of the Easter story!
Then Dan spoke of hoaxes, specifically the Loch Ness monster and Watergate, and how the truth had come to light in each instance and the hoaxes had unraveled. He reminded the congregation that we can entrust those we love to God, because Jesus’ rising from the dead was no hoax. Many people over the centuries, even though they did not see Jesus face-to-face after His resurrection, have died for this belief. It is the most important truth on earth. Amen and hallelujah!

Monday, April 18, 2011

Fountain Park Church

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


Bob’s thoughts:

At times I think about a church home and question our call of visitation. God reminds me of His call. We get letters of appreciation from pastors and churches, in His perfect timing we are used by God some way, and we are led to witness a God moment in a believer’s life.

Sunday was one of those moments. We worshiped at Fountain Park where we were later to host a baby shower for our daughter. Fountain Park is their home church and a place where I feel Christ’s presence.

Beyond the celebration of Palm Sunday, there was Baptism and Reception of New Members. The statements of faith from these youthful celebrants assured me the church will go forward in Christ.

It was a joy to know my prayers for Mark and the church were heard and welcomed.


Jan’s thoughts:
As the baby shower for our daughter and son-in-law and their twins was held here, we opted to worship here also.
We’ve blogged about previous visits to this church, so today I’d like to publicly thank the women of Fountain Park who both participated in and worked to help make this event the expression of love and support that it was.
We as parents are richly blessed to know that our family have been given a church family that cares so much about them and their children. They have been embraced by the prayers of this church from the start.
Mark’s sermon was part 4 of 5 of a series entitled “My Life…His Way,” and it made me wish I had heard the other parts. His approach is faithful and his delivery honest, with a touch of humor.
I was grateful for this church and delighted to be here.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Northminster Presbyterian Church/New Life Community Church

Today we worshiped at Northminster Presbyterian Church/New Life Community Church, 45 N. Fremont Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15202, 412.761.1600, Rev. Don Brown, Pastor.


Bob’s thoughts:

We have been confused many times over the lack of signage, but I think this was a first: we knew we were at the right address but the name was different.

From some Annual Reports we found I assume there was a merger and thus the need for a name change. We did see a small plaque outside identifying the church as Northminster and the bulletin had both Northminster and New Life. There was only some signage inside.

The Sanctuary is simple and ornate with an interesting mix of woodwork, and a large cross incorporated into the front.

The Children’s Message seemed to capture their attention even better than the pastor expected, but ran a bit too long to keep their attention.

The hymn “It is Well with My Soul” was sung omitting the fourth verse, the one with the best lines.

The sermon was a part two and posed something interesting to consider: by the end of Genesis there were 70 followers of God, and closer to 2 million when they exited Egypt. Not the circumstances we would readily imagine for growth, but God works beyond our comprehension.

God’s people then were no different than we are today. We likewise are busy creating new levels of corruption.

The honor fell to Solomon to build the House of God, which was grand. Then he built his own house four times as large. The pastor brought up a favorite point that God works like judo, turning our efforts to accomplish His direction.

I thought the pastor did a good job of leading the congregation through the sermon and was encouraged when I read his message in the Annual Report stressing mission. I was pleased to pray for this church and pastor.


Jan’s thoughts:
We began this visit in a state of confusion as to whether we had the correct location – the plaque on the front of the building indicated Northminster Presbyterian Church, but the sign on the marquee read New Life Community Church. Whatever church this was, God had led us here so we opted to stay.
After reading a couple of Annual Reports, it seems that last year Brighton-McClure Presbyterian Church merged with Northminster, and hence the “New Life” name I suppose.
A gentleman immediately inside the front door welcomed us and handed us a bulletin. We had just enough time to find a seat. Several people in the vicinity and walking past greeted us.
The Sanctuary is tastefully decorated with a cream color on the walls and ceiling and trim in various shades of tan/caramel/brown with purple accents behind the cross on the rear wall of the Chancel and on the banners framing the Chancel. It’s quite lovely and it all blends well with the stained glass.
The bulletin was nicely done with an interesting drawing on the front of the tomb of Christ and the stone in front being blown away from the opening by the power from within the tomb.
The pastor’s energy and enthusiasm was evident early on, and I quickly came to appreciate his sense of humor.
It’s been a while since I saw sign language in use during worship so I had to smile when I noticed the pastor signing the Gloria Patri.
The Scripture readings were re-printed on bulletin inserts. Prior to the first reading, the pastor pointed out strongly that God’s Word is His Word regardless of the medium. I appreciated the superb reminder.
The Children’s Message was entertaining and educational. The pastor used a rainbow-shaped crayon and marker holder to illustrate that each instrument has its own place to be, that to be blessed means to be in its proper place with God at the center, and that order originated with God.
The sermon was called “God’s Amazing Love and the Chosen King II: The Rise of the Prophets” and was based on II Kings 9:6, 11-13, and II Chronicles 33:1-9.

There were many excellent points of which I made note, but I can’t connect them without duplicating the sermon, which won’t happen. Therefore I’ll simply list the quotes I noted and trust you to follow the yellow brick road:
• Israel became more evil than the people they displaced;
• At the end of Genesis there were 70 people following God;
• Approximately 2 million Israelites left Egypt;
• Judges became necessary because there were too many people for Moses alone to judge;
• Priest = intercessor;
• This created yet another level of bureaucracy between God and the people;
• Solomon’s palace was four times larger than the temple Solomon built for God;
• Every time His people took a step farther from God, God made a way to bring His people closer to Him;
• God does unexpected things in ways we would never consider;
• In the face of power, God came in utter poverty to rescue us;
• Jesus spoke perfectly because our lives hung in the balance;
• We have nothing to do with our blessings.

I have often marveled at the “oppositeness” of God…how humans expect Him to behave in a way that makes perfect sense to us (i.e., the expectation of the disciples that Jesus would establish His kingdom on earth using swords and force) and He follows none of our rules. He does things His own way and from a perspective we must be guided into seeing, accepting, and understanding. As so many have learned it’s one of the things that makes following Him an adventure – around every corner is a surprising growth experience. I can almost picture Him smiling when we finally “get it.”
Speaking of surprises, following the service we encountered a co-pilgrim with whom I traveled to Malawi in 1999. He is now a student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and if you’re a music lover you might consider attending an event he mentioned would be held there. On Tuesday, April 26, PTS will present “Baroque to Blues: A Concert of Music for Two Pianos,” which promises to be an uplifting experience. For further details, check out the website at http://www.pts.edu/Baroque_to_Blues.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Ken Mawr United Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Ken Mawr United Presbyterian Church, 1760 Pine Hollow Road, McKees Rocks, PA 15136, 412.331.2863, www.kenmawrchurch.org, Rev. Karl McDonald, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

Sometimes I have a foreboding about a church visit. Today the parking lot was closed off for repaving; we had a few minutes to look for a restroom and noticed no signage and even had to step into a restroom to identify which gender it was for. I think God lets this judgmental side come out so He can put me back where He wants me.

The Sanctuary is white, walls and ceiling, but somehow “color happens.” The few items that are not white, like two purple banners that frame the large cross on the wall, are great, but I think the room was colored by the spirit of the worshipers. There are things that come to me when I am not seeking, and I have to credit God. There is a unity that brings color to their worship.

At the Prayer of Confession we were led to confess our sin – singular, the sin of pride – at the heart of all our other sins.

The choir assembled from the congregation for the Anthem, giving an impromptu look. There was joy in their worship – I saw the smiles.

During the offering the piano was accompanied by an acoustical guitar, which was a profoundly pleasant rendition.

The sermon wove around Christ healing the man who was blind from birth, and the important part was that the eyes of his heart and soul were opened to Christ. His blindness was not the result of some sin, as was assumed, but that God might be glorified in the healing.

This is what came to me: we are called to be a rhino for Christ. A friend who is an engineer pointed out to me once that a rhino’s eyesight is so poor that they cannot distinguish between a man and a tree at 15 feet, and a charging rhino can reach 40 mph. At that speed, he has no idea what he will be running into. I believe God calls us to be blind like that for Christ: to have the faith to charge without knowing where He leads us. I want the eyes of my heart and soul to lead me.

Communion was served silently and the pastor served himself. The choice of music during Communion was excellent and well done.

I liked the prayer card of Paul’s prayer from Ephesians 3:14-21.


Jan’s thoughts:

Upon our arrival we found the church in the midst of repaving their parking lot – an ambitious project for a church in these trying economic times. The interior is very well kept; some is actually brand new, adorned beautifully. The colors of the walls, furniture, and decorations presented a lovely, coordinated image.

Initially we did not notice much signage; in seeking the restrooms I had to walk into one to see the sign on the front of the opened door. Unfortunately it was the men’s room. Oh well. A sign on the wall outside the room would have made it easier.

The Sanctuary is attractive with two stunning purple banners on each side of a beautiful wooden cross hanging on the rear Chancel wall and two equally exquisite green banners hanging on the rear wall of the Sanctuary. The high white wooden ceiling and the white trim set off the dark wooden pews perfectly.

The bulletin is unusual – the 8 ½ x 11 bulletin contains only the Order of Worship, and inside is folded an 11x14 sheet that is full of announcements, two different colored half-sheets for sign-ups and another half-sheet with words to a song, a publication called “Glimpses of Christian History,” this edition about a man named Richard Baxter (looks interesting), and a card with "Paul’s Prayer for the Church” (Ephesians 3:14-21). Whew – plenty of reading material for the rest of the week; but even with all that it was easily handled, for which I extend kudos (probably to the Administrative Secretary/Treasurer, who is likely the woman who took the time to introduce herself to us after worship).

More folks greeted us than I expected, since this church has an earlier service as well. As we’ve mentioned in the past, most churches with more than one service can appear less than friendly because everyone figures if they don’t know you it’s because you usually attend the other service. However, the people who greeted us were the pastor’s wife and the church secretary/treasurer – people who would know the members and therefore knew we were visitors.

The music was low-volume and exceptional. There was much piano with both an acoustic and bass guitar, quietly done. The hymns were on the contemporary side, which was fine by me, and when it came to the closing hymn, “Shine, Jesus, Shine,” they sang it like they meant it. It was truly uplifting!

I wish I knew the title of the Anthem, but it was not in the bulletin. It was a spiritual and many of the words were sung staccato-style, and it was a blessing to hear. (You can tell I’m not a choir person…it’s just not one of my gifts!)

The sermon was entitled “A Man Blind From Birth” and was based on the story in John 9:1-23. The pastor spoke of the difference between being physically blind and spiritually blind, and how this man in the Scripture had not only his bodily sight restored, but also the sight of his heart and soul.

In verse 2, the disciples asked Jesus, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” The pastor pointed out that even in this day and age, it’s common to believe that someone is physically or otherwise challenged due to some sin committed by them or someone close to them. But Jesus assured the man that this was his purpose on this earth and his healing would be the vehicle through which he would bring glory to God.

I had to think of all the suffering known by those I know and love. Is it just possible that our sufferings are the vehicles through which we might bring glory to God? Perhaps our challenges are part of our purpose on this earth, and God uses them not only to mold us into the people He wishes us to be, but to mold the people around us into the people He wishes them to be as well. And perhaps, when we reach Heaven, we may even say, “Lord, I would willingly have suffered more had I only known how much more glory it would bring You.”

We had the privilege of participating in the Sacrament of Communion today also, during which the piano/guitar quietly played duets of “Open the Eyes of My Heart” and “Be Thou My Vision” – so appropriate considering the sermon.