Sunday, May 27, 2012
Today we worshiped at Conway Alliance Church, 1100 Highland Avenue, Conway, PA 15027, 724.869.4500, www.conwayalliance.org, Rev. Rich Grassel, Pastor.
John 15:1-8, 16:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.
Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given to you.
This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last. Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.
So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.
But if you are led by the Sprit, you are not under law. The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
It is always interesting to me how our morning evolves and we learn to which church we are headed. Today my daughter was without a car, so we put the car seats in my truck and took her to church. I think it was one of the first times we have had grandchildren ride in my truck. I had the joy of my granddaughter falling asleep in my arms during worship.
I was impressed with the prayer time, how many joys and concerns are lifted by these believers.
The sermon, from what I could catch, wove around the vine and the branches, the oneness and need of completeness in being grafted in. I did notice how attentive the congregation was during the sermon.
We were welcomed by a number of people including some who welcomed us back, important to a guest.
I was asked to stand as a veteran and we were thanked for our service. I am always grateful for this humbling experience.
Although we had worshiped here recently, today we went along to help with our grandtwins.
The moment we walked in I was extremely grateful for the air conditioning. Lots of people spoke with us and with the little cuties with us (and who can blame them? J).
I enjoyed hearing the praise band again as they have a great sound, although I was familiar with only one of the songs.
The pastor took a moment during the service to acknowledge and thank the veterans present for their service, a moment I deeply appreciated.
The message introduced an upcoming series on the Fruit of the Spirit, which I found appropriate for Pentecost Sunday.
He began with an excellent question: “Why doesn’t the Good News sound like good news anymore?” (The answer came later: Because believers fail to take God’s warnings seriously, so we look too much like the world. Ouch.)
The part of the message that really caught my attention was when he pointed out that it is our most difficult challenges that inevitably produce the most fruit if we will embrace these painful experiences redemptively. However, remaining in the vine is vital to the production of fruit, and the production of fruit is evidence of having remained in the vine.
We need to ask ourselves: “How do I want to finish my life?” (Refer to the Galatians passage above.) The question at this point was, “Which list (in Galatians) would describe us?” Our answer would be an indicator of how we might anticipate finishing our lives…no fruit = no presence of the Spirit. A chilling thought.
I appreciated the message for its perspective and focus on remaining in the vine in order to see fruit produced in our lives. There is a particular area of my life wherein I am hoping to see fruit, and I suspect God brought us here so I could receive His guidance and reminders.
Our prayer for this church:
Father, We pray that this congregation continues to grow in service to You. We ask Your blessing on the leaders as they discern Your direction for this church. May they experience the joy of serving as You direct. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Sunday, May 20, 2012
Today we stayed home.
Scripture – Ephesians 2:8-9:
Our prayer for these churches:
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.”
This weekend we celebrated our grandtwins’ first birthday and one of our daughters from Virginia was able to be here. It was a precious time of reunion and celebration.
The time always passes too quickly and we find we are too late to make a church service, so we turn to the Internet to listen to sermons.
I am reminded of the “Cheers” theme song, about “where everybody knows your name.” When we listen to a sermon by a pastor we know, I can see the delivery, the expression in voice and body. I get a sense of where the congregation is from the noise of the Sanctuary, and feel very much a part of the worship service.
Today we thank God for our family, and for the gift that each of our children and grandchildren has been to us. God has shown us grace upon grace, and our prayer is that He is glorified.
Father, we offer praise and prayer for these churches and pastors. We pray that they come to know how You use the words they speak to encourage others whom they may never meet. We pray also for those who hear You speak to them wherever they may be. We pray that You would strengthen and encourage these pastors and their ministries. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Sunday, May 13, 2012
Today we worshiped at New Community Church, 3101 Wexford Road, Wexford, PA 15090, 724.935.0909, www.NCCinWexford.org, Mark Bolton, Senior Pastor.
Scripture – Revelation 4:
Our prayer for this church:
“After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.’ At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and carnelian. A rainbow, resembling an emerald, encircled the throne. Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. Before the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits of God.
Also before the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.
In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle.
Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stop saying: ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.’ Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say: ‘You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.’”
This church would benefit from some signage: we knew approximately where it was and drove past it anyway. The church is considerably off the main road and is visible coming from the opposite direction.
Inside was somewhat the same; had we entered differently I might have noticed some directional signage. A man I asked in the sanctuary not only gave us directions to the restrooms but accompanied us downstairs to point them out.
We were warmly greeted by a woman who worked part-time for the church who offered to answer any questions for us…we should have asked her about restrooms as they were right inside the door where we were talking.
The building resembles a railroad station, which they must have fun with at times. The seats are most comfortable with good spacing. I was disappointed not to find a cross. The large stage had 16 people in the praise team, including some brass. I’m glad we sat in the back, what I could hear of the female singers sounded pleasant, and the overall sound was harmonious.
The sermon was part of a series on Revelation from chapters 4 and 5 and titled “Dread and Desire.” The message was developed and delivered effectively. Those in the Bible who have been in God’s presence experienced the dread of “Who am I to be in the presence of the Creator?” just as John felt. I was moved by John’s reaction in Revelation 5:3-4 at the possibility that there was no one in heaven or earth who could open the scroll, that God’s will might not happen, and this was where John’s desire overcame dread.
I located some literature about mission activities in March but wasn’t sure if that was all for the year.
This facility seems larger than it actually is, and most of the details seem well thought out. I wished for additional signage, as we had to ask people on both floors about restroom locations.
The church secretary managed the welcome desk and recognized us as visitors, but she was the only one. Two others provided directions, and one mother noticed Bob’s USMC shirt and introduced her son who would be leaving for Marine Corps boot camp following graduation. They were the only people who spoke with us.
I was amazed at the size of the praise band: 15 by my count, although from the back row I could have missed one or two. I’ve never seen one that included three brass wind instruments. They were quite good however, and they generously gave each mother a six-song CD as a gift in recognition of Mother’s Day.
The message was part of the series “Themes in Revelation,” based mostly on Revelation 4, and was entitled “Dread and Desire.”
I found it comforting to learn that I am in august company in my lack of understanding of this book: John Calvin openly admitted he did not understand Revelation, and Charles Spurgeon said that he did not understand it but fully believed it. I love that!
He used Job 42:2-6, Isaiah 6, and Habakkuk 3 to illustrate his point that God’s presence always causes feelings of fear, awe, and unworthiness. God is never what we expect, but we sometimes decide it is easier to keep Him at a distance than to fall on our knees and worship Him. The phrase he used to describe being in God’s presence was, “The trauma of His holiness undoes us.” Wow.
We dread being undone so completely at the same time that we long for God’s Kingdom to come and for all to be made right. Dread versus desire…do we run to Him or try to hide from Him?
I don’t mind admitting that this book used to scare the daylights out of me, but now that I’m older, I pray for it to come. I guess I’ve crossed over and seldom feel the dread, only desire.
Father, we pray the seekers in the surrounding area find their dread transformed into desire for you and that the members bring their neighbors to worship with them. Jesus Christ is preached here; may they proclaim to all with ears to hear. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
Sunday, May 6, 2012
Today we worshiped at Covenant Community Presbyterian Church in America, 5157 Wexford Run Road, Wexford, PA 15090, 724.934.1234, www.covcommunity.org, Pastor Jon Price.
Scripture – Psalm 1 (ESV):
Our prayer for this church:
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the wicked will perish.”
We were early for church on a beautiful day and got to walk around the spacious grounds, and on the corner of the property are the crosses that we have noticed when traveling Interstate 79. Had there been a place inside where we could have sat, we would have missed the crosses.
I was anticipating a large cross in the Sanctuary, but there was none.
The Sanctuary has a projection to one side that houses Sunday school and restrooms and probably nursery, but no signage.
A real blessing was the greeting we received from the children: it was clear and welcoming, and they not only offered a greeting, but waited for a response. Before the passing of Christ’s peace we were welcomed by one man in the pew in front of us.
Something else that I found unusual was when the music started the congregation took seats and only a few came in after. It has been the norm in every contemporary service we have attended that the congregants always straggle in.
The sermon was the first in a series on the Psalms, covering the types of Psalms. Today was “Finding Happiness.” The pastor used a personal story of large trees on a riverbank to present a mind picture of prospering and accomplishing what is intended. He led the congregation through defining happiness, to how to get there, to using this short Psalm as a prayer.
Communion was served in the pews silently and the pastor served himself.
This building sits on a gorgeous piece of property and boasts a picnic shelter, a well-equipped play area for children, and lots of space. On this weather-perfect day, it made for a peaceful walkabout while we awaited the time we could enter the building without disrupting the Sunday school in the Sanctuary. Once inside, we toured briefly and perused the large bulletin board indicating a fair amount of global mission involvement.
I noticed no directional signage. We did locate the restrooms, but signs protruding into the hallway would have been helpful there.
It was a joy to see so many children in worship with their families.
The chairs were comfortable and spaced to provide adequate legroom.
Surprisingly, I only knew one of the songs, but they were led by a gifted praise band and I was grateful for the moderate volume.
Several people greeted us during the Passing the Peace, and one person spoke with us outside of that time.
I applaud a church’s efforts to be hospitable to visitors, but it always bothers me when it comes time for the offering and visitors are told that they are not expected to give. I don’t understand why our giving should be viewed differently because we are not members. Visitors have as much need to give as any member of any church. So I want to say “Thanks, but please allow us to give to God also.”
The message was the first in the pastor’s summer series entitled “A Summer of Psalms.” Today’s was Psalm 1 (see above) and the message entitled “Finding Happiness.” I agree with the pastor that the Psalms are generally considered devotional reading and I loved the statement that the Psalms “put in our mouths the kind of worship God wants.”
The pastor defined success as “accomplishing the intended purpose.” He stated that the person who knows God will succeed, and we must seek God’s will in all situations…meditate on God’s word by “active thinking” including talking to ourselves…and he suggested turning this Psalm into a prayer. Doing these things will not only allow us to find refreshment, but to give it as well.
Success…happiness…prosperity…sometimes seem like such elusive goals. But I am encouraged to hear him map out steps I can take such as keeping my mind and heart close to God and well-watered by His Word, and sinking my spiritual roots deep into the things of God. And I tend to forget that God’s definition of success is unlike that of the world because what is of the world is temporary and success in God’s eyes has eternal value.
I was blessed by receiving Communion.
Father, we pray that this church continues to examine themselves and assess how they present themselves to those that You lead to their doorstep. We lift up the children to You in gratitude for their unselfconscious welcome and pray that You will continue to guide and protect them. We pray that You would lead the church in how it might use the grounds to introduce You to the community. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.