Sunday, September 25, 2011

Grace Community Church

Today we worshiped at Grace Community Church, 216 Mystic Pine Trail, Cranberry Twp., PA 16066, 724.779.7997,, Matt Kaltenberger, Lead Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

One of the personal benefits of our blog is to jog my memory about our observations of a church and to see what may have changed. I was pleased that Christ used the same pastor to deliver to me a necessary message.

We parked in a well-marked visitor spot and noticed two people holding the doors open, expecting they were watching to see if anyone parked as a visitor, but we had to initiate the “Good morning.”

Our timing was off a bit and the service was starting as I was getting a cup of (excellent) coffee. The room was packed and there were people directing traffic and setting up extra chairs. I was standing a little too long and it became necessary to sit through the service, so I didn’t get to look for a cross. With my diminished hearing the volume was still too much for me, but the congregation seemed alive worshiping with music.

I will be interested to see the new location and the directional signage provided to enable visitors to find them.

I am used to not having an Order of Worship for a contemporary service, and remembered that the offering was taken early.

The sermon was part of a series on how God has used average Joes to accomplish great things and our almost unilateral exercise of our “spiritual gift of excuses.” God gets angry with excuses, and there will be none on Judgment Day.

Where Christ really spoke to me involved a question about my personal service. I have tended a large garden with most of the produce going to the poor. A good endeavor, feeding God’s people, but it was my idea to expand to the point that it was killing me to take care of what I had planted. I kept justifying my need to continue this good work without consulting God.

Today my focus is changing in reflecting on the question, “What do you already have to use for Christ?” I don’t know exactly what that will be, but I know what He needs me to know for now, and I know Who to ask when I am lost. He has shown me where to start Monday morning.

He has never failed to steer when I turn over the helm.

Jan’s thoughts:

It has been more than two years since we visited this church. The membership must have grown because it seemed significantly more crowded than the last time we were there, which is probably why they’re in the process of building a new facility.

This facility is still very nice, well laid out and contemporary in look and feel.

Perhaps my ear condition has exacerbated the problem, but as we entered the Sanctuary the music seemed especially loud. Since they were already setting up additional chairs, we requested two be set up against the back wall because of the volume. They were understanding and graciously accommodated our request.

The music seemed professional…it was almost like being at a concert except the music was worship-oriented.

The offering was taken noticeably early in the service.

This was the fourth and final part of a series entitled “Average Joe: What God Can Do Through Ordinary You,” and was presented by the same preacher we heard last time, Bob Zonts. He began by recapping the first three installments of the series which were about Noah (who was “available, different, obedient, and faithful”), Gideon (whose key points were “affirmation, revelation, confrontation, and transformation”), and Abraham (key words – “path, promise, plan, provision”).

Moses was an Average Joe until he encountered the Burning Bush, and when God explained what He wanted Moses to do, Moses came up with five excuses. The preacher defined an excuse as “Self-justification for something we have done or haven’t done or don’t want to do.” The excuses were detailed as follows:

Excuse #1 – “Who am I?” The question: have I used my past, or a wound from my past, as an excuse? The solution: trust Him…He’s the One doing it, not us.

Excuse #2 – “What if they ask who sent me?” The solution: it’s not about you…do what you know…tell your story.

Excuse #3 – “They won’t believe me.” The solution: God never asked Moses to use something he didn’t already have. What do I already have that He’s asking me to use? God never expects us to be someone we’re not.

Excuse #4 – “I don’t speak well.” The solution: trust God to do what He says He will do; again, it’s not us.

Excuse #5 – A weak request to “Please send someone else.” Scripture affirms that Moses was an exceedingly humble man, but God gets angry when we make excuses, and Moses was refusing to trust God’s answers.

Finally the big, bottom-line question: do we really trust God with our lives? Ouch.

This message hit me right between the eyes. I felt as if these reminders to tell my story, trust God to do what He sees fit with it, that it’s not about me, these are all things I’ve been hearing over and over from various sources. Perhaps I need to take it more personally. Still no burning bushes though…so far…

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Calvert Memorial Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Calvert Memorial Presbyterian Church, 94 Locust Street, Etna, PA 15223, 412.781.3056,, Bonnie Taylor, Student Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

When we arrive at a church with no signage we can usually find the restrooms, but today we had to ask. The only important signage was a large lit stained glass cross. The ceiling is dark wood and beams, featuring half-round stained glass dormer windows.

I thought the organ might be a little strong for maybe 20 worshipers, but it was actually quite good. The Special Music was presented by a blind couple whose music was an enjoyable addition to worship.

The sermon wove around past hardships and violence the Pastor and her family have faced and how God has used these experiences to shape them now, most importantly to fear only God.

I was excited to learn that the church has a neighborhood prayer ministry and is supportive of ministries in the Etna area.

From my time in prayer I sense that this church is changing to be about those to whom Christ is calling them to minister. As difficult as change can be for Presbyterians, I am proud that they are following Christ’s lead to be a beacon for their community, keep the lights on, and go out in faith.

Jan’s thoughts:

As we circled the building in search of a parking spot, the first thing I noticed was the wide open doors. Granted it was a beautiful day, but seeing every door wide open caused me to instantly view this as a welcoming church, an impression that turned out to be accurate once we were inside.

The building is older with lots of beautiful stained glass, including a large, unique stained glass cross on the rear wall of the Chancel. The pews and ceiling were dark wood, but the Chancel area must have been newer as it was a different shade. Signage was minimal, but almost unnecessary.

We arrived a bit on the early side, inadvertently interrupting an adult Sunday school class, but one of the women graciously came out to welcome us.

During the announcements a trip to Ohio was mentioned. The purpose of the outing must have been known to everyone else because it was not mentioned.

Prior to the Passing of the Peace it was declared from the pulpit that everyone greets everyone else, so that’s what we did. This was followed by some lovely Special Music, a tune called “I Need You More Today.” The couple who offered this contribution exhibited a beautiful harmony to their voices.

During the Doxology the liturgist stood facing the Chancel while holding the two offering plates up high, a physical reflection of the spiritual act of offering.

I appreciated the prayer prior to the reading of the New Testament Scripture for the day.

The message, “9/11 Revisited,” centered on Psalm 66:8-20 and 1 Peter 3:13-18. At first I wondered about the timing of the topic, but this was clarified when the Pastor spoke of having been on vacation the last two weeks. Her story, however, was personal and shocking.

She is a student pastor and has been a Pastor’s wife for 30 years. Her husband was serving a church in Littleton, CO at the time of the Columbine shootings, and due to some church conflict the family became the target of violence. It actually reached the point where they allowed their daughter to attend boarding school in New York, and on September 11, 2001, their daughter was at the school, 50 minutes from the World Trade Center. It seemed like this family could not escape tragedy.

She made excellent points about fearing only God, leaning into God in times of trial and persecution, sharing the truth of our hope, remembering that our strength comes from Who our God is, and going boldly, refusing to be intimidated.

I was reminded again that there is no substitute for personal experience.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Hampton Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Hampton Presbyterian Church, 2942 East Hardies Road, Gibsonia, PA 15044, 724.443.3201., Rev. Ted Martin, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

Upon entering we happened to encounter a friend and the pastor along with one of the interns. They led us to an outdoor service pavilion for this contemporary worship service where we sat at picnic tables aligned to face a large wooden cross.

The sermon was part of a series dissecting their mission statement, and this week the topic was being guided by the Holy Spirit. The pastor likened the Spirit guiding us to his experience guiding river rafters. The consequences are much the same: follow your guide or face possible death. He asked the question: if you have no personal peace, are you resisting the guidance of the Holy Spirit?

Communion was served with the elements offered aloud.

Had I known the second service overlapped I would have left after Communion. As it was, we stayed after to talk with a few people and missed a good part of the second service.

“Turning Point” is a contemporary rock & roll service. There was a large wooden cross there as well. I heard a lot of prayer requests for concerns, but I did not hear joys at either service. At Turning Point there was an order of worship on the table where we sat and Communion was not offered at this service.

The chairs were very sturdy and comfortable, an oddity for folding chairs. I was impressed with the voice of one of the females in the praise team.

We were greeted very warmly by someone we knew after the service, but by no one else until we left that portion of the building.

I think we were too late for the offering at Turning Point, and there was none taken at the first service.

There is good signage in places, but we could have used some help finding our way from the lower level and to locate the service.

Jan’s thoughts:

This is a beautiful facility, well cared for, thoughtfully designed and decorated, with good signage. The people were friendly, especially considering this is a three-service church.

We have worshiped here twice in the past: the first time was prior to Rev. Martin’s arrival and the second was when he was participating in a mission trip, so this was our first opportunity to hear him preach.

We came for the Pavilion service and stayed for the service called Turning Point. Both services are very casual and laid back, but the music at the Pavilion service is presented by a guitarist and three additional vocalists and at Turning Point there was a full praise band.

No offering was taken at either service so as visitors we were unsure what to do with our check and the topic never came up in conversation with the folks with whom we spoke. (We’ll mail it.)

I don’t know how large this church is, but they seem to have numerous programs and mission efforts going, and I recognize that it takes no small effort to keep things running.

The message was the same at both services and was centered on Isaiah 52: 6-7 & John 14:25-32. This was part two of a series which examined the church’s new mission statement. It was a passionate explanation of what this church believes about the Bible (it is God’s Word, holy, inspired, and authoritative), and the Holy Spirit (He comes with authority and stands beside us as an advocate, comforter, and helper). He spoke of a time when he was a river guide on the Youghiogheny River and gave a vivid example of what can happen in those circumstances when one fails to regard the guidance of someone with knowledge and experience. It was a reminder to listen to the Holy Spirit as He guides and teaches us to engage life wisely. We resist God’s guidance to our own peril.

One of the more intriguing questions (to me, at least) was: “What happens when we are where we’re not supposed to be?” I suppose we (I) should be listening, just in case.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Mt. Chestnut Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Mt. Chestnut Presbyterian Church, 727 West Old Route 422, Butler, PA 16001, 724.287.7601,, Rev. Jeff Curtis, Pastor.
Bob’s thoughts:

The church is in a pastoral setting in Butler County, and the ambiance carried on inside in the pleasant Sanctuary. We were warmly welcomed, which is somewhat unusual for a church with two services. When I saw the cross in stained glass I realized what was missing last week: I need the cross in worship. The Sanctuary has a center and side aisles, which must make it adaptable for most uses. The harmony of the praise group and instruments was enjoyable.

After sharing the Joys and Concerns, there was a short, impromptu prayer during which he used the phrase “where we can do little.” What an appropriate expression. When we can do, we don’t need God.

I appreciated the Pastor’s vocal inflections when reading the Scripture and preaching; to me it makes a real difference.

The Sermon was directed to what we do when facing difficulties ahead: we try to ignore, or try to control everything, or face the situation with courage and trust. God wants us to live now and not worry about the future. We are better served to look back at the blessings He has heaped upon us and how He has brought us through every strife.

We can live our lives without any fear. We are loved and well cared for, it is an important part of our witness to those who don’t yet know Christ.

I liked that the Pastor was served by the Elders but was sorry that Communion was served silently.

This church seems to be moving toward being missional; I pray they go fearlessly.

Jan’s thoughts:

Having arrived very early for the 11 a.m. service, we had plenty of time to look around and chat with people. The facility is well cared for, and much thought went into the decorating. The signage was excellent throughout, and the kitchen space is well organized and labeled.

We located several bulletin boards: one with photos and information about those serving in the military, one with all sorts of information about local, national, and international missions, and one about activities involving the seniors who meet here, as well as several others.

In spite of the fact that this is a two-service congregation, some of the members and the pastor were friendly and kind enough to take time to chat and tell us about the church.

The Sanctuary is well coordinated with green carpet, matching green on the pew cushions and backs, accented by a medium wood on the pew ends and Chancel woodwork with white elsewhere.

I enjoyed singing the contemporary music, and the three vocalists harmonized beautifully. Also the piano/organ pairing was very pleasant.

The Children’s Sermon was different, as the children stayed in the pews. Consequently the message seemed aimed at the entire congregation, which is not only a fine thing but reflects the way it actually is anyway.

The Sermon was based on Acts 21:1-19, “What To Do When Difficulties Lie Ahead.” He spoke about when we “see tell-tale signs of what’s coming we have the option of taking the ostrich approach, we can attempt to control or manipulate circumstances, or we can find the courage to trust God’s handling of it.” He further pointed out that “the past does not hold us down – it’s past. We can choose to live in the present even without knowing how things will be worked out. Our future is based on God’s Presence and power. We may be shaken, but our faith will be proven. God DOES prepare us – we just can’t see it.”

Having just finished reading Max Lucado’s book “Fearless,” this sermon struck a chord with me. It felt like God brought us here to hear this message in order to reinforce these very points. These are significant truths and I’m encouraged to know He cares that I/we internalize them. (By the way, “Fearless” was a blessing.)