Sunday, June 24, 2012

North Hills Church of Christ

Today we worshiped at North Hills Church of Christ, 797 Thompson Run Road, Pittsburgh, PA 15237, 412.487.5969,, Terry Lafferty, Minister.

Scripture –

2 Corinthians 3:18:
And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

Revelation 21:4:
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Bob’s thoughts:

We were greeted as we entered, given a bulletin, and directed to the restrooms. A few people asked if we were visiting and where we were from. On a quick look downstairs signage was evident. My guess was there was nothing but the Sanctuary on the main floor.

The pews are arranged in an angular arc and the wooden cross is centered in a window. The service started with one of the music leaders singing what at first sounded like Jewish music, and the congregation joined in. It was a prelude to one of the best music programs I have heard. The congregation sang with the harmony of a well-trained choir and all were done without instruments. One of my favorites, “You Are My All in All,” was sung with the female echo and then reversed on the next verse. I can’t remember a congregation being so seamless in song.

The offer was made for prayer card for private or corporate prayer. A number of different people offered prayers comfortably.

The sermon, “From One Degree to Another,” focused on our steps to a new commencement. It was great direction to me to never stop graduating, from one degree of glory to the next.

I wondered if others are like me in maintaining where I am in Christ without thinking of pursuing the next degree. I am grateful for the message and grateful that the pastor would let Christ use him to deliver direction for me. I really enjoyed hearing so much Scripture quoted throughout the sermon, the Word of God for all to hear. The last point of striving for a degree in cardiology struck me personally.

We stayed for a few minutes after the service for a tribute to two graduates with a video montage that was well done.

Jan’s thoughts:

We attempted to worship here several weeks ago, but God wanted us to hear another sermon that day. Today I learned He was saving this one especially for me.

I appreciated being greeted immediately upon entering, and there was signage but none for restrooms because they were immediately inside the building.

We briefly toured downstairs but all we saw were classrooms and it was too close to start time to look around any further.

The Sanctuary was striking even without stained glass. Lots of matching wood, an intriguing ceiling, and comfortable pews arranged in a zigzag layout unlike anything I’ve seen before.

The pews were nearly filled and the members were animated in their conversations, so when the hour arrived, the lights were briefly turned way down to let everyone know it was time to find their seats. I found this merely interesting until a gentleman began leading the congregation in song, and when I looked around I realized there were no musical instruments in the Sanctuary. The amazing thing, though, is that instruments were unnecessary. In the course of the service at least seven songs were sung (I may have miscounted), with three different male leaders at various times. Obviously the leaders all had superb voices, but the congregation maintained incredible volume and harmony. What an absolute joy to participate in that musical praise.

I was blessed to partake of Communion and to read the Scripture on the projection screen during the sacrament.

The sermon series is entitled “God’s Great Adventure” and this installment is “From One Degree to Another.” Since the high school graduation of two members was recognized later in the service, the title was a creative connection.

The pastor pointed out that life’s new beginnings and fresh starts provide a series of graduations and commencements to new steps in life. For instance, “the Israelites graduated from slaves to wilderness wanderers to inhabitants of the Promised Land. The woman caught in adultery was given a new beginning, and it took Jonah only three days to receive his degree.” He used other Bible characters as illustrations, including Peter, who was “faithless at the trial and faithful at the tomb,” to illustrate his point that we “should never stop graduating and should be transformed on a regular basis.”

He suggested the following three degrees that everyone needs to seek:

  1. A degree in Bibliology – it should be our lifelong pursuit, along with a minor in prayerology.
  2. A degree in Pneumatology (i.e., the Holy Spirit) – He is the key to defeating sin, He is the giver of gifts, and the fruit-producer. We are warned against grieving or quenching Him.
  3. A degree in Cardiology – the heart is central, it should be guarded and examined.
The pastor issued the reminder that Revelation 21:4 guarantees one final graduation and commencement for us all.

This message spoke to me loud and clear. I so often feel like I should be moving forward somehow but I’m never sure in what direction. This message reminded me that each day God graciously allows me to again learn and grow and graduate and to become a new person. So, I’m not stymied after all. What freedom there is in finding that I’m already doing part of what I have so wanted to! And, I get to do it again tomorrow!

Our prayer for this church:

Father, It is a joy to lift this church to You, Lord, as it was a joy to meet with You in worship here. We pray that You continue to bless and lead these people to their next commencement. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

CrossWay Church

Today we worshiped at CrossWay Church, 109 Davis Road, Valencia, PA 16059, 724.898.4600,, Chris Gibbs, Lead Pastor.

Scripture – Joshua 24:14-15

“So fear the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord alone.

But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.”

Bob’s thoughts:

We have passed this church a number of times and have looked forward to worshiping here. It is a great setting on top of a hill, a beacon to the community.

We came in just as the service was starting, along with quite a few other folks. This seems to be common with contemporary worship services. Once we were inside I had no way of knowing that I had passed the restrooms as they were immediately inside the entrance. There was directional signage indicating other areas, but it took a while to locate the men’s room. I noticed that even though the restroom seemed modern, neither had changing tables.

My grandchildren were trying to be louder than the congregation so we went to the nursery. While I was disappointed that I couldn’t hear the sermon there, I did have a delightful visit with the staff and children. I look forward to listening to the sermon online and perhaps getting to learn the purpose of the exercise equipment on the chancel.

They had my kind of cross with large spikes that spoke volumes sitting silently there off to one side.

Jan’s thoughts:

This church sits on top of a hill reached via a winding driveway. I wished we’d had time to look around at the view because it’s probably stunning.

The service was just beginning when we arrived with our grandtwins and their parents. We sang the opening songs, but the kids became fussy so we took them to the nursery. The ladies there were very welcoming and showed no hesitation whatsoever at having two more one-year-olds join them. I returned to the Sanctuary, but the pull was too strong for Bob and he stayed with the little ones.

The Sanctuary is light and pleasant with comfortable chairs. This is the first time I’ve seen a projection screen mounted and framed, and I thought it looked marvelous. There was a beautiful, rough-hewn cross in front standing (at a guess) maybe 6 feet high.

The music was terrific: energetic and well done. It made me realize again how much music can contribute to a worship experience.

As soon as the opening songs ended, the service began with “Cinderella” by Steven Curtis Chapman. Each portion of the song was enacted by an appropriate-aged girl and a man portraying her father. At the very end an older couple danced a few steps together, representing the couple who married. It was very well done and quite touching, and I noticed that mine were not the only damp eyes.

Following this was a clip from the movie “Courageous.” If you have not seen this movie, it’s from the same people who did the movie “Fireproof,” but the major characters are police officers (except for the one man who is their friend). I recommend the movie highly – both my thumbs are way up for this one – and it’s perfect for Father’s Day as it’s a call to men to be the spiritual leaders of their households and to follow Biblical standards in their personal lives and in their influence of others. The pastor used clips from the movie throughout his message.

The message, entitled “A Stronger Man,” focused on encouraging the men in the congregation to 1 – accept personal responsibility, 2 – guard the value of relationships, and 3 – live out the Resolution (which was based on the Resolution in the movie “Courageous”).

The pastor was open about some of the struggles he faced being raised by a single mom. He declared the Enemy meant it for ill, but God meant it for good and thus God has brought much good from his battles. Hearing him preach with such passion, in my opinion, God continues to use him. He spoke of the men who are currently fathers “fathering a generation,” and “turning to God as the Father to the fatherless.”

He included the women in the congregation as well, reminding them that they are helpers to the men and giving the women the opportunity to stand up and be proud of the men. He closed by giving the men the chance to come forward and sign a copy of the Resolution, sealing the deal.

It was an emotional time, and something I have not had the privilege of witnessing in a church in a good while. It was vulnerable passion for a God-given role that can influence others for generations to come. As I sat there I knew that this is a church that understands brokenness, and I sensed the strength that comes as a result. I believe that is something only God can create – strength in the broken places.

Today’s worship was a blessing, and I thank God for leading us here today.

Our prayer for this church:

Father, we pray that You will indeed use this church on the hill as a beacon to the surrounding community. We believe You honor a church that teaches the values found in the movie “Courageous,” and we pray for the men of this church as they step up to the challenge to be the men and leaders You have called them to be. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Stoneridge Covenant Church

Today we worshiped at Stoneridge Covenant Church, 811 Dressel Road, Allison Park, PA 15101, 412.486.7778,, Rev. Dr. John DeLancey, Pastor.

Scripture – Mark 6:30-56

The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught.

Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place. But many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them.

When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things.

By this time it was late in the day, so his disciples came to him. “This is a remote place,” they said, “and it’s already very late. Send the people away so they can go to the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.”

But he answered, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “That would take eight months of a man’s wages! Are we to go and spend that much on bread and give it to them to eat?”

“How many loaves do you have?” he asked. “Go and see.”

 When they found out, they said, “Five-and two fish.”

Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups of hundreds and fifties. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to his disciples to set before the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish.

The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand.

Immediately Jesus made his disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd.

After leaving them, he went up on a mountainside to pray. When evening came, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and he was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. About the fourth watch of the night he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified. Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed, for they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened.

When they had crossed over, they landed at Gennesaret and anchored there. As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was.

And wherever he went – into villages, towns or countryside – they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed.

Bob’s thoughts:

The service was moved from the Sanctuary to a social area that thankfully had air conditioning. We seem to be less able to handle the heat, and it was a blessing to be comfortable.

I noticed when we toured the beautiful Sanctuary after the service that there was directional signage; I don’t know if there was any signage the way we came in, but it looked like a good effort had been made to direct visitors.

I thought we were missing a cross till we stood and I could see one on the Communion table. (The Sanctuary has a large wooden one on the wall.) The room we were in has nice simple lines and colors, and it was later before I realized it wasn’t the Sanctuary.

We were only a few minutes late but had to find chairs to set up, as did others after us; a good problem to have.

The sermon, “Dangers of a Blinded Heart,” was part 2 and sprung from Mark’s relating the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000. The point was brought out that the disciples had just returned from being sent out and were probably hungry, much like the crowd. I’m sure it made the task seem all the more impossible, but Christ fed them all with Living Water.

I think the Pastor’s knowledge and insight of Jewish tradition at the time of Christ adds a lot to his message.

I particularly liked the closing admonition to watch for when Jesus wants to perform miracles now. Most times I think we miss them.

The church is attempting to involve the neighborhood, and I think if the neighborhood knew they could get the Jewish perspective of Christ, they would be knocking on the door.

I was impressed by a young usher who stood upright without fidgeting while waiting for the offering plate to be returned.

Youth are well represented here, a good sign of church health.

Jan’s thoughts:

This is a pretty church unexpectedly tucked into a residential neighborhood. It has ample parking and a beautiful park-type area with a shelter.

It was a blessing that worship was held in the air conditioned fellowship hall.

The moment we entered the door we noticed the directional signage. We arrived only moments before the service got underway, and after worship one of the leaders graciously took the time to show us around and answer our questions.

The children’s message had the pastor equating wearing a comfy, snuggly bathrobe with a hug from the Holy Spirit. Hopefully the children will recall this lesson as easily as I will, because I love my robe!

Three high school and two college graduates were recognized for their accomplishments.

The sermon title intrigued me: “Dangers of a Blinded Heart” was part 11 of the series “Jesus Revealed.”

Not being a fan of the circus, I never would have known that the lion tamer’s most important tool is his stool because the lion is unable to focus on all four of the legs at once.

I wondered what this had to do with Jesus’ miracles of walking on the water or feeding the 5,000, but the pastor pointed out that in both stories Jesus told the disciples what to do and He knew what they needed, but as it states in verse 52, “their hearts were hardened.”

The pastor declared that lives are so busy these days, we eat on the run and sleep too little. Like the circus lion, we try to focus on too many legs of the stool. Anxiety can paralyze us and our fears can prevent us from seeing Jesus. However, when God removes the blinders, we can see that He is indeed with us and willing to help us, our hearts are softened and we remember His love for us.

Just as Jesus knew what the disciples needed, He knows what we need. And just as He removed the blinders from the disciples’ hearts, He can remove ours as well.

As I listened to the reading of Scripture I realized that in the course of both miracles, Jesus gave the disciples instructions which they had no human way of fulfilling. It was only after the disciples asked Jesus for His help that He provided everything they needed and more than they ever asked or imagined.

I know I often forget that Jesus knows what I need, that He loves me and is with me constantly, and if I just ask Him, He’ll provide everything I need and more. I do know these things…I just need to remember to ask.

Our prayer for this church:

Father, we pray this church does open its doors to the neighbors who don’t know how much they need the message of Christ. We thank the pastor for taking up the cross and speaking Christ’s Good News. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Elfinwild Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Elfinwild Presbyterian Church, 3200 Mt. Royal Boulevard, Glenshaw, PA 15116, 412.486.5400,, Rev. Dr. Dirk Lesnett, Pastor.

Scripture –

Acts 2:42-47:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Romans 12:1-2:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.

Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Bob’s thoughts:

God led us from the parking lot of the church we chose to where we were to meet Him in worship.

This church has undergone a major renovation since our last visit, with some areas so changed that it is hard to imagine how it looked before.

Prior to the service we had a few moments to catch up with the pastor and meet a few people. We were invited to come back and have our picture taken when they do an update of the church directory. It amazed me that the couple organizing the photo appointments are new members.

The sanctuary has great woodwork that helped to draw my attention to the wooden cross on the wall. The restrooms are identified but could use directional signage.

This is a Presbyterian church that will be celebrating 100 years soon, but they don’t act their age, nor do they behave like old stuffy Presbyterians. This church is alive and well and is about the call to “glorify and enjoy God together.”

The sermon was from Acts and Romans about our call to be the church in and for the world. Those who don’t know God may not have much of a picture of how we are in church, but they see us where we live. How much of Christ can they see in you when you are at work? The message also touched on something dear to me: the current penchant to re-imagine everything, which puts us above God. Sharing what God said, we will be the church.

God is glorified here and the pastor truly enjoys being used by Christ. I was also encouraged by some great mission numbers I found in the newsletter. This was an easy church to pray for.

Jan’s thoughts:

It has been 3½ years since our last visit here and in that time this church has been transformed – literally – with an addition between the two buildings. I was glad we were early enough to wander around and look at the area. It looks spacious and accommodating, and visitors and members alike will appreciate the directional signage that I’m sure is planned to complete the project.

In the course of our tour we happened upon a wall full of mission information, displaying a map of the Pittsburgh area, one of the United States, and one of the world, each bearing signs indicating mission support/activity in that area. According to the newsletter, Elfinwild Church is a strong supporter of mission needs, so it’s no surprise that God has blessed them so richly. Time and again I see a connection between tithing and blessings, in personal lives as well as the life of a church. Obedience matters to God and He stands behind his offer to prove it. (Malachi 3:10: “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.”) This church is blessed indeed.

A co-worker/friend and his wife who belong here were not present today, but we had an unbelievably uplifting conversation with a couple who were coordinating photo times for the new photo directory. They even offered to include us, as they are extending an opportunity to participate to the community at large.

The bulletin contained a ton of information and plenty of inserts, so I was grateful that it was user-friendly. And numbering the items on the list of announcements was a stroke of brilliance, in my opinion!

It was a treat to hear the anthem presented by the Chancel Choir.

The Sermon, “Being the Church In and For the World,” was based on Acts 2:42-47 and Romans 12:1-2 (please see above). Some of his points included that prayer is about acknowledging God in submission and humility; breaking bread is indicative of Communion…it is good to remember the cost Christ paid for us; fellowship reminds us that faith in Christ is what we have in common; and teaching is a reminder that we need to ask “What has God said?” and then seek the answer in Scripture.

He said, “The best thing we can do for the world is to be the church and the people of Christ, then people will hunger to know God more. Worship is how we live.”

I went to church today with many deep questions in my heart, and I must admit that when I saw the sermon topic I thought we must have misunderstood God’s direction. I did not think this sermon would have much to say to me about the issues that were weighing on my mind, but I could not have been more mistaken. God put me precisely where I needed to be to find the answers I needed. I am sincerely grateful to Him for His gracious guidance and reassurance, and especially for His presence.

Our prayer for this church:

Awesome Lord, we pray for Your continued guidance for this church, thanking You for the blessings You have poured out. Please encourage them and grow their faith, let the joy of serving You increase. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.