Sunday, November 27, 2011

Woodland Valley Church

Today we worshiped at Woodland Valley Church, 225 Crowe Avenue, PO Box 815, Mars, PA 16046, 724.625.4500,, Pastor Norb Levesque.

Bob’s thoughts:

This was a very welcoming church, from the man we met in the parking lot who directed us to the entrance, to most of those we encountered inside. We were given a welcome pack of information and led downstairs to a coffee and doughnut area.

A few people noticed that I was military and thanked me for my service, something that to this day still surprises me. The bulletin included an abbreviated order of worship, which I appreciated. There was also a sheet to keep notes on the sermon. I enjoyed the offertory music very much.

I noticed a number of people using sign language, particularly a young man facing the congregation who paused while the recipient made notes from the screen.

The sermon, on a Thanksgiving attitude of gratitude, had an opening point of how we don’t notice our blessings till we lose them. Sorry to admit I have been guilty of this. The points of the message were well developed with Scriptural backing for each highlight.

I appreciated the anecdote of an immigrant assessing his profit and loss statement. He came with not much more than his pants, so he figured everything he now possessed – less the pants – was his profit. Are we honest enough to admit that God supplied the pants too, and that everything we have is from God?

The pastor closed with a life/death personal story from his early childhood that resulted in a genuine appreciation of the blessing that Christ has poured out.

There was a good time allotted to prayer and some significant mission involvement. My only disappointment was finding some decorated trees but no cross anywhere.

Jan’s thoughts:

As we exited the truck and looked around for a door to the building, I saw one open toward the right so we headed toward it. Just then a gentleman called to us from the left side of the parking lot that the entrance was over that way, so we followed him inside.

Once indoors the excellent signage allowed us to locate the restrooms without even having to ask. Nearly everyone we saw greeted us, and someone escorted us downstairs to the coffee and donuts in a nice little café.

Back upstairs, we had already been identified as visitors and were given a great “welcome” packet full of information about the church. The worship folder is a tri-fold sheet, well laid-out with plenty of current information and even space on the front for a lovely color graphic. Inserts consisted of a sign-up sheet to purchase cookie trays and a sermon outline/note page.

We found seats in the gym-type worship area and caught the end of the praise team’s rehearsal. I noticed on the screen a timer counting down to start time, which seemed to be an effective way to handle that issue as conversation quieted at the appropriate time.

Had we sat in another section we would have missed the several people who were interpreting the songs (and the sermon) in sign language. It brought back warm memories of when our daughter did this.

The praise band consisted of an acoustic guitar, a trumpet, three vocalists who also used noisemakers (forgive me…I don’t know what they’re called!), a drummer, a bass guitar, and two keyboards. They sounded excellent, and they weren’t too loud (which I hardly ever say because an ear condition tends to increase the volume in my head).

For the offertory they performed an inspiring song called “The Stand” (which I had not heard before but have purchased on iTunes today).

The message, “Attitude of Gratitude,” began with an amusing video revolving around Thanksgiving and then the reading of the 1623 proclamation of thanksgiving. He continued by detailing three attitudes that steal our gratitude including a conceited attitude (1 Corinthians 4:7), a critical attitude (Philippians 2:14), and a careless attitude (Psalm 84:11). He then moved on to speak of three areas to be thankful for: the blessings of life (Ephesians 1:3), the burdens of life (Philippians 1:21), and the benefits of life (Psalm 118:24).

He also included three viewpoints held by the Apostle Paul that enabled him to endure the burdens he did: Paul had an eternal perspective (Romans 8:18), a practical perspective (2 Corinthians 12:10), and a sacrificial perspective (Philippians 1:12).

The message was Scripture-based and very well-constructed, then topped off with the pastor’s personal story about when he was about two years old having gotten his young hands on a bottle of prescription medication and taking them all. He was in a coma for a time and was given a 1-in-500-million chance of surviving, which he obviously did, giving him quite a powerful story to tell.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Living Water Fellowship

Today we worshiped at Living Water Fellowship, 125 Center Grange Road, Aliquippa, PA 15001, 724.709.8681,, Pastor Doug Dragan.

Bob’s thoughts:

We were welcomed in the ample parking lot as well as by many inside, and invited to share doughnuts and coffee in their social space. We were told of rather extensive remodel/rehab work on the facility and enjoyed the jungle motif to the halls and basement classrooms.

There was a large collection of food donated for Thanksgiving dinners for needy families. I enjoyed Nathalie’s singing and guitar and even when the congregation didn’t quiet down when she started to play, she handled the situation well. She seemed capable of leading the music and sang some of my favorites. I noted even the “gray-hairs” like me singing the contemporary praise songs with passion.

The pastor felt called to invite some forward for prayer with laying on of hands. I haven’t found many pastors who acknowledge that God blesses this.

The message was from someone else, Pastor Gary, if I heard right. He stressed through the sermon that God had a symbol, the cross. I was disappointed that I couldn’t find one in the church. There was something about how we are holy with God in us. Some of the theology seemed off; maybe Jan was able to follow better.

If God sends us back, I hope we get to hear Pastor Doug. I was glad to lift this church in prayer and pleased to see the mission involvement.

Jan’s thoughts:

The inside of this church is intriguing. The only signage was where it was necessary. It’s a new-to-them space, comfortably arranged, with tall curtains to create hallways. We took a self-guided tour downstairs where the children’s ministry takes place, and found evidence of some incredible talent here: everything was painted in a colorful, imaginative, kid-welcoming jungle décor.

The people were very friendly and more than a few invited us for coffee and donuts prior to worship.

The music leaders consisted of a drummer and the pastor’s wife on an acoustic guitar, and they definitely led the musical portion of the service. We also got to sing two of my all-time favorite songs: “Blessed Be Your Name” and “Days of Elijah.”

I couldn’t help but notice as the words to the songs were displayed on the screen that all the pronouns referring to God were capitalized. I realize those sorts of things aren’t the most important, but to me, at least, they indicate an importance ascribed to God, and that is important.

Full disclosure: This was a new worship experience for me. I believe the pastor referred to this church as Pentecostal/charismatic (or else he was saying that they weren’t, I was a bit lost there). Either way it was certainly different, and I don’t know enough about worship in this/these denomination(s) to know what the difference would be or even to know precisely what they believe. I have experienced altar calls during worship, but never more than one per service until today.

The message, given by another pastor, was called “21st Century Temple of God.” I took probably three times as many notes on this sermon as I do for most sermons I hear. I found his preaching style somewhat difficult to follow and because there were points where, if I understood him correctly, I could not agree. For example, that Israel was the light of the world but it failed and now “you” (presumably believers) are the light. I believe Scripture refers to Jesus Christ as the light of the world. And I recognize that the Bible contains many symbols and numbers, including some symbolic numbers, but I don’t think I would say that “God loves symbols and numbers” as that attributes an entirely different connotation to those references.

However, I surely agreed with the instruction, “When God speaks to you, write it down” and “God’s goal is character development” (in a broad way, as He is at work to mold us into the image of Christ).

I would be interested to hear the pastor who introduced himself as the pastor preach so I could learn more about the beliefs and teachings of this denomination, but these are some of the thoughts with which I left the church today.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Chippewa Evangelical Free Church

Today we worshiped at Chippewa Evangelical Free Church, 239 Braun Road, Beaver Falls, PA 15010, 724.843.6381,, Jeff McNicol, Senior Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

We were greeted and welcomed at the door. I remembered that there was good signage, but I had one problem today. We followed the directional sign near the coffee area in seeking restrooms, but could only find the women’s. When I did find other restrooms the deodorizer was so strong my eyes burned.

My memory was that I couldn’t find a cross: today there was a large wooden cross, although it was obscured.

The service started with a good prayer followed by a well-done choral presentation. We got to witness two baptisms with Statements of Faith.

A pastor once told me how he would sit in the first pew in a contemporary worship service and was always surprised how many worshipers came in after he sat down. I have noticed this at most contemporary worship services as well as today’s.

The sermon was part of an interesting series on the tenets of the church. The congregation is called to examine what they say they believe. As Christians we are encouraged to question everything about our faith. I think too often we intone our creeds without a thought as to what it is we say we believe, so I felt this was a divinely inspired series.

During this message I heard Christ question the heart of my faith walk, and I am looking forward to where He leads me next.

This seems like a good healthy church with a good mix of internal and outward mission. Personally I was pleased that the offering was taken in response to the Word.

One odd observation – out of 20-some aisle seats I noticed all but one were males. I think the men must be getting fed.

Jan’s thoughts:

We visited this church once before, almost three years ago. It is sprawling, spacious, well-cared-for, modern, welcoming, and boasts great signage and numerous thoughtful touches throughout.

The people we encountered were friendly, but with five services I tend to think it could be easy to remain anonymous. However there seems to be intentionality about connecting people and helping them get plugged into the many ministry and study opportunities.

The music was very well done, and I enjoyed the first song which was offered by five men and four women. Unfortunately I have no idea of the title of the song.

We were privileged to witness two adult baptisms by full immersion following the persons’ oral testimony.

The sermon was part of a series called “Beyond Belief – When Truth Takes Action” and this installment was entitled “We Act through Obedience.”

I believe there was more Scripture (14 references!) quoted in this sermon than in any other sermon I have ever heard. The message was important: we need to be what we say we are. If we say we are believers, we must act like believers. Our faith must extend to and through our everyday lives. And there should be accountability…a timely point this week.

This 10-part sermon series examines each of the revised statements in the newly-adopted Evangelical Free Church Statement of Faith, and this church will meet in December to consider and vote on adopting this Statement of Faith. I appreciated being able to read what the EFCA believes and found I was in agreement with every point.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Valley Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Valley Presbyterian Church, 237 Main Street, Imperial, PA 15126, 724.695.0300,, Rev. Dr. J.L. Bouterse, Pastor.

Bob’s thoughts:

Today we were back at Valley Presbyterian. I am sure I have commented on the good signage we have found there, but today I noticed how confusing the rest room signage is. The rest rooms were completely remodeled and I always try to turn in where the men’s room door was. There is a board with directional signage but a lot of extras that I found confusing.

This church has some good mission activities going on, including a new one, Watson Institute, where volunteers help care for a disabled child and provide a break for their family.

Some people were intentional in coming to welcome us.

The sermon was part of a series stressing God’s grace as opposed to our works. “Heavenly Boot Camp” dealt with what we need to do to be prepared for Heaven.

We were blessed to receive Communion and I was pleased to see the pastor was served the elements, but miss having the elements served with an oral reminder of their meaning.

Jan’s thoughts:

We have visited this church twice before, and this is such a friendly church that it’s always a joy to visit. Many people greeted us prior to the service as well as during worship.

The bulletin is one 8 ½ x 11 sheet folded into thirds, and one of those thirds contains the Order of Worship.

The music was blended, with a couple of traditional hymns and a couple of contemporary ones, including “I Can Only Imagine.” This is such a wonderful song in spite of the fact that it always brings me to tears as it was included at our son’s memorial service. All the music was well done, though.

I appreciated that Communion was served today as it seemed like it had been a while.

The sermon was part of a series about Heaven and was entitled “Heavenly Boot Camp.” It was based on 2 Corinthians 5:16-21 and Colossians 1:15-20. There were several statements that caught my attention, especially that people join the church with the best of intentions but sometimes end up serving the church instead of serving Christ.

But the major point was that no one can earn their way into the Kingdom, it’s all about grace, and we must “repent of the seduction of works.” That is such an easy trap to fall into. No matter where we are on our faith journey, that is a point we all need reminded of on occasion.