Sunday, April 29, 2012

Little Hill United Methodist Church

Today we worshiped at Little Hill United Methodist Church, 2350 Magee Road Ext., Sewickley, PA 15143, 412.741.4920,, Rev. Dennis L. Bouch, Pastor.

Scripture – John 10:11-18:

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it.

The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life – only to take it up again.

No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

Bob’s thoughts:

It is always interesting to see where God leads us. Jan passes this church on her commute and we wondered when we would be led here.

The Sanctuary is one room with steps in the rear to the basement, but it still would have helped to have signage. We were early and had time to explore a bit.

We were greeted when we walked in by a woman preparing things in the Chancel area, and she later checked with us downstairs to see if we needed anything.

When we sat down in the Sanctuary everyone coming in sat on the other side, but then a woman with her grandson sat in front of us and introduced us to everyone who came by. She was a real ambassador of the church.

The shared pastor for this 150-year-old church has seen attendance double since he started in August. It was a bonus for me to find out the pastor is a Marine.

The Sanctuary is nicely decorated with a large cross and fine stained glass.

A woman mentioned being at a function where they gave away crock pots as a come-on. When she described the crowds, there was some discussion of using crock pots as an evangelism tool.

I was pleased when it was time to share joys and concerns that a lot of joys were mentioned. We are always quick with concerns but frequently overlook the joys.

The sermon was built around this being Good Shepherd Sunday. The pastor did well guiding the congregation through the message, ending with some good thoughts on the demands of listening and the great rewards of being heard.

Jan’s thoughts:

I drive past this church on my daily commute, but today God led us here. It is indeed on top of a small hill (small for Pittsburgh, anyway) and exhibits a lovely pastoral setting.

We arrived fairly early and were greeted by the only other person there, and after a brief self-guided tour we waited in the Sanctuary until others arrived. The woman who sat directly in front of us introduced us to numerous people as they stopped to greet her. Many others welcomed us during the greeting time.

We learned that the church is 150 years old, and the current pastor has been there since August. Membership at that time was at 17 but has now risen to around 38.

The message, entitled “Listen!” was based on John 10:11-18. He stated that shepherds were often mentioned by Jesus in His teachings, and that the shepherd is a metaphor for Jesus. Jesus calls us distinctively and personally and He wants us to be who He created us to be. However we must consciously choose to listen. Truly listening – to anyone, including Christ – demands a lot, but listening is the foundation of discipleship, and listening to Jesus always enriches us.

The pastor pointed out that true listening leaves us open to change. The noise of the world disguises the real music, however Jesus never gives up and there is no situation where He does not speak. (I particularly appreciated that reminder.)

A vital point was that the more we listen – the true listening that leads to obedience – the better we learn to hear.

This sermon struck a nerve with me. I have an ear condition called Superior Canal Dehiscence, which means that sometimes I am unable to hear well, and if I speak too loudly I become dizzy. Listening is just a bit more challenging for some. But it has forced me to be quiet in some ways also. As with any sensory loss, other senses can be heightened to compensate, and I believe my spiritual ears are better than my physical ears. I choose to view this as a blessing that has forced me to shut out some of the noise of the world.

Obeying, of course, is another issue…my free will is intact so, like all believers, I still struggle with this part of the equation.

I must say though, that based on the way my husband listened to me at lunch, he heard this sermon.

Our prayer for this church:

Father, As this congregation works to discern and obey Your lead, we pray that You will provide continued spiritual and numerical growth for this church. We ask that You open their eyes to missional needs that You wish them to embrace and that You continue to bless this pastor as he leads Your flock. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Mars Alliance Church

Today we worshiped at Mars Alliance Church, 997 Route 228, Mars, PA 16046, 724.776.9400,, Rev. Stan Sanger, Interim Senior Pastor.

Scripture – Luke 24:36-49:

“While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’

They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds?

Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.’

When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, ‘Do you have anything here to eat?’ They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate it in their presence.

He said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’

Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, ‘This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.

I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’”

Matthew 5:9:

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”

John 14:27:

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Bob’s thoughts:

We have driven past this church often, and I had a few questions should we ever be led to visit…questions I remembered right up till our visit today.

We parked in a visitor spot right in front of a door marked ‘entrance,’ but had the early service not been singing the closing hymn, I’m not sure we would have found the Sanctuary.

There seems to be a lot of signage but what I found had more to do with internal programs. We did find restrooms near the Sanctuary. The men’s room was clean, bright, and uncluttered, with a pleasant color scheme.

The Sanctuary is open with a high wood beam domed ceiling. The rear is open to the hallways but only a few times did voices carry in. The central stained glass panel is a cross, in addition to the one on the Communion table as well as on the light fixtures, so I was happy.

We were welcomed by two pastors, and even though I expect not to be recognized as a visitor at a church with multiple services, it was surprising that both pastors introduced themselves. It almost seemed to me that the members were okay with that and didn’t feel the need to say hello.

I was pleased to see a billboard recognizing church members in military service, and an usher realized I was former military and thanked me for my service.

We arrived a little early and I got to listen in on some of the praise team rehearsal. Three females sang together with great harmony; during the service the balance seemed off a bit and I lost one voice, but I would bet it was more my ears and sitting in the last pew. The praise team showed passion that I didn’t sense with the congregation. Perhaps it was that we “gray hairs” were the majority at this contemporary service and we sometimes like to listen and enjoy more than we like to sing.

Like any other first-time visitors, we never know of the other aspects of the worship service, only what we experience that day.

The sermon on peace included a reference I loved: when we are doing our ‘peace talks’ – how we share Christ’s peace with others.

My favorite part is the time I get to pray for the churches we visit.

Jan’s thoughts:

The facility is modern and spacious, with good signage. The Worship Center is open, high ceilinged and good acoustics (in my opinion).

Many people greeted us with a smile while the couple in the pew in front of us introduced themselves. Two pastors recognized us as visitors and stopped for conversation.

The worship leadership consisted of three women with powerful voices and perfect harmony. They were a joy to hear. I knew many of the words to these contemporary songs, but a couple of the songs were new to me and I found myself wishing the words were easier to see from the back of the Worship Center.

The sermon began with a video of what appeared to be long-term mission work in Sarajevo. Due to the years of violence and upheaval there, the people live in a constant state of fear. The few who know Jesus are the only ones who have any peace, so the hope is to use a community center setting to allow the peace of Christ that lives in the hearts of some to influence the hearts of those who do not know Christ.

The pastor’s message, “Peace Be With You,” spoke to the need for personal, interpersonal, and international peace. He pointed out that Jesus wants to reveal Himself and His peace to us and through us.

Everyone I know battles the demon of fear at some point in their life. I know I have, and sometimes I still do. I am so grateful that when I find myself unable to sleep at night because of fearful thoughts running amok in my head, God’s Spirit will remind me of His sovereignty and His great love. I do not believe there is another road to victory in this battle.

Our prayer for this church:

Father, we pray that this congregation will hear Christ speaking to them as they search for the pastor that You have already selected to lead them. We pray that they will hold each other together, that they would have a happy witness of loving You and loving others. That witness isn’t spoken, but is heard loudly by You and those that they encounter. We pray they will accept the interim pastor’s guidance and do their “peace talks,” and that You will be glorified. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

First Christian Church of Beaver

Today we worshiped at First Christian Church of Beaver, 360 Iroquois Place, Beaver, PA 15009, 724.774.0518, Scott Montgomery, Pastor.

Scripture for the message – Deuteronomy 5:19:

            “You shall not steal.”

Scripture for the meditation – Isaiah 53:2-6:

“He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.

We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

Bob’s thoughts:

The church is attractive with unusual stained glass. From the architecture, I would guess this was formerly a Methodist church.

We were warmly greeted by most of the people. I couldn’t find any signage but did get directions to the restrooms.

I found crosses to focus on and some enjoyable children to watch before the service.

Communion was different: a meditation was delivered in lieu of the Words of Institution, the elements were served silently and the congregation partook as they were served.

The sermon was part of a series on the Ten Commandments. The pastor started his message with basic baby steps, but as he preached he did a good job of leading the congregation to form the conclusions to understand the message. The sermon developed naturally with a conversational approach by the pastor. The congregation reached the right end, and, I think, felt they were part of the preaching. An interesting means of developing the message of “You shall not steal” and what it really means to God.

Jan’s thoughts:

This church is set in the midst of a residential area and was a friendly group where numerous people introduced themselves and welcomed us.

I would humbly suggest that some signage would be helpful for visitors.

Worship began with three hymns in succession, the third as an introduction to Communion. There was also a meditation built around Isaiah 56:2-6, quoted above.

During Communion an announcement on the screen invited anyone unable to attend worship but wishing to receive the sacrament to call the church office and an elder or deacon would bring it to them at home.

The message was based on the Eighth Commandment found in Deuteronomy 5:19: “You shall not steal.” The teaching was well constructed and delivered. The pastor made a distinction between envy and jealousy: “Jealousy is when someone else has something and you wish you had it…you are discontent. Envy is when someone else has something and you don’t want them to have it. Envy is rooted in disrespect of someone’s life.” He also pointed out that one cannot love their neighbor and steal from him.

I’ve heard few other pastors lay it on the line so directly, and I appreciated his approach to teaching as well as his invitations for questions following the message.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

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 had the pleasure to worship Easter morning at Southminster. The contemporary service is held in a social area, but I was pleased, as always, that a cross was visible. The praise team is exceptional, and I particularly enjoyed the solo of “Hold On” by the female lead. The signage has improved so much that I almost looked to see where it might be missing.

Dan Merry spoke on “Afraid of EASTER?” up till the original end of Mark 16:1-8 where the women were told at the tomb to go and tell the disciples – and Peter – that Christ is risen. The women left quickly but told no one because they were afraid. Dan also raised the question we all ask: did the disciples ever ‘get it’? Like the rest of us who mightily resist change, they got it.

There was a small table in the rear with a few toys to entertain the children, and my wife let me go sit with them at the end of the service to ease my withdrawal in missing my grands. J

On Good Friday we visited Fountain Park Church and walked through the “Meditations on the Cross.” It was well put-together and meaningful to me, and left me at the cross still wondering how could Christ come to die for a worthless sinner like me.

But while praying, a revelation of sorts came to me. When people thank me for my service in the Marines my response is frequently “I would have died for you.” Maybe I finally have come to grips with Christ’s sacrifice for me.

Jan’s thoughts:

What a special joy to worship with our friends at Southminster on Easter Sunday!

We attended the 9 a.m. service called Crossings, which is held in Fellowship Hall. I always appreciate the relaxed, friendly atmosphere, and today I found the music to be especially uplifting.

Strangely enough, just this morning I read the resurrection story in all four gospels, so I was puzzled to see that he was preaching from Mark, as it seemed the most abbreviated of all. But, as usual, Dan made excellent points in the sermon founded on Mark 16:1-8 and called “Afraid of EASTER?”

The observation that especially got my attention had to do with the realization by Jesus’ followers that His resurrection changed everything and that nothing would ever be the same again. On the one hand I can’t help but say “Hallelujah!” to that. On the other, I recognize the dread of a future affected so profoundly by a single event. It is the end of one life and the beginning of something so totally new that one has no idea how to live that life or what to expect.

This dilemma was answered by several words in one of the songs this morning, “Mighty to Save,” specifically the words that refer to Jesus as the “author of salvation.” These words hit me powerfully…Jesus is the author of life itself, but not only the life we know – also the life we have yet to experience, the everlasting life, for which He gave His life for us to experience.

Change happens, and sometimes life takes unexpected turns, but God is the Author and He always brings light from the darkness.

Easter blessings!