Sunday, September 30, 2012

Home

Today we worshiped at Home.

 
We both got up feeling sick this morning, me with a cough I couldn’t control, and maybe just a bit more overwhelmed by grandchildren than we are comfortable to admit. We spent some time beyond our normal devotional time listening to sermons online.

One pastor told the story of Moses’ birth as if it was in our time. He made reference to something in Moses’ life as being “from the Get Go,” which puts a different spin on the bull rush story.

Another sermon referred to our “winning is everything” mentality. He reminded that as followers of Christ we are called to be servants. I pray that I can be a worthy servant.

I read in a devotional this morning a poem by Kenneth N. Taylor called “The Cord.” It related how the things in our lives work when the cord is plugged in, the great power of the cord. The important part is that we have the greater power plugged in, that love, joy, etc. grow strong in us.

 
Our prayer for the Church:
Lord, we pray we all take up that greater power and grow strong in and for You. We give You thanks for the myriad of ways that You get Your message across to us. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Northbridge Community Church

Today we worshiped at Northbridge Community Church, 216 Mystic Pine Trail, Cranberry Twp., PA 16066, 724.371.1180, www.northbridge.org, Jame Price, Lead Pastor.

 
Scripture:
1 Timothy 4:14-15 –
Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you.

Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.

2 Timothy 1:6 –
For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.

 
Bob’s thoughts:

We revisited in part to see how children were handled in the nursery, and I was impressed with the efficiency and the loving care that our grandchildren received. There is a computerized check-in system with name tags printed for the child and adults, including grandparents, authorized to pick up.

It is also possible to register children online the night before a visit. My daughter was given a passcard to scan when they revisit.

There were some goal posts around the projection screens, but still no cross.

During the announcements some photos of a nursery area were projected on the screens which made me think it might be fun to project some real-time shots of the children in the nursery areas. Some churches project the children’s message for all to see and this always seemed well-received.

As we both have experienced a change, we have been investigating our spiritual gifts. Today’s sermon about the thumbprints of God was Christ’s leading. A principle was raised that we should hold ourselves only accountable to God. Many times clergy have stressed using our gifts for God, but this was the first who brought up how that would affect others. God has blessed you with gifts you can use to bless others as He directs. You are part of God’s overall plan…don’t disappoint Him.

 
Jan’s thoughts:

Now that we have family staying with us temporarily, we pay more attention to the child care facilities and arrangements when we visit a church.

We have attended this church once before, but J & S, our daughter and son-in-law, wanted to visit and we wanted to lend our support, as well as to see it from the perspective of someone with little ones.

From that perspective, it was efficient, caring, colorful, and safe. Children are checked in; parents/guardians receive nametags with numbers linking them to the appropriate child/ren.

One of the grandchildren was anxious about going into the room even though her sister was in the same room. But she joined her sister and afterward said she had lots of fun. And Mom and Dad appreciated the opportunity to worship together for the first time in a good while.

We were privileged to witness an adult baptism, for which the congregation was encouraged to “cheer loudly for a changed life.” What a terrific approach, and very different from the staid Presbyterian style with which I grew up. He was baptized “in the name of the Father Who loves you, the Son Who died for you, and the Holy Spirit Who lives in you.” I liked that.

The current series is entitled “Game Plan” and this, Part 3 called “The Playbook,” was presented by Jeff Henderson.

Today’s visit was another reminder to me that God guides us to the church He wants us to visit.

I have always been interested in spiritual gifts, and for the last several weeks have taken several written and online. This message was centered on our unique gifts, God’s specific plan for each life, and discovering the gifts we have been given and how God expects us to use them.

Paul equates life with a race, so much the same language was used. He stated that a common obstacle is running someone else’s race, i.e., living our life based on someone else’s expectations or lack thereof. He reminded that Scripture tells us to “run with endurance” and that God will not hold us accountable for someone else’s race.

He referred to gifts as “God’s thumbprints,” and said they “are clues to His plan for you. We need to lean into them, not turn away from them.”

Besides knowing our gifts, we need to “leverage opportunities to use our gifts.” In other words, recognize them, acknowledge them, then do something with them, remembering that they were given to us so we could use them for others’ sake. It’s not about us. And at the finish line we will hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

The other point that spoke loudly to me was if we pray for opportunities to use our gifts, God will show up and provide them. Personally this is encouraging, as that’s where I am.

I came home and took the online spiritual gift assessment on the website (www.northpointministries.org/gameplan). The results were much the same as the others I had taken recently, so I think I have a pretty good handle on my gifts; however I have no idea how God wants me to use them. So I will take his advice and pray, trusting God to show up and give me an indication of how He wants me to use His gifts.

 
Our prayer for this church:
Father, we pray this church continues to look for ways to praise and honor You. Awaken them to the talents with which You have blessed them that they might use these gifts to glorify You. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

New Life Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at New Life Presbyterian Church, 2795 Patterson Drive, Aliquippa, PA 15001, 724.378.4389, www.newlifehopewell.org.

 
Scripture – Numbers 6:22-27
The Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:

“ ‘ “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” ‘

“So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.”

 
Bob’s thoughts:

I learned something about my expectations today. This church had a bright, airy feel to it with bright-colored stained glass beautifully lit by the sun. I was remembering some very passionate worship in very dark and humble worship areas, and I think I was expecting vibrant worship because of the aesthetics.

This church recently suffered the loss of their pastor and of his wife a few years earlier, so they are early in the grieving process. But it made me wonder how often we are affected by the environment in which we worship. We had thought that we might help someone there through the grieving process, but I think it may be too early.

Not only was there a great cross on the wall, but some smaller ones built into the walls and the ends of the pews. I noticed only door signs on the floors that we visited. We were welcomed by a number of people, but noticed that questions were only addressed to me.

The preacher serves as a chaplain elsewhere and preached on “The Unexpected Blessing” from a benediction in Numbers. He made his case for the blessing of this benediction now.

The preacher relayed several personal stories, beginning with the humbling experience of being prayed for. It reminded me of an older friend who was in her last days. My wife joined me to lay hands and pray, which went very well. But when we finished she surprised us by holding on to us firmly so she could pray for us.

A favorite story to which he referred was Aaron explaining how they threw in this gold and look at the calf that came out!

And lastly, driving in challenging conditions and being glad there was no Christian bumper sticker on the car.

I remember feeling chastised because of my driving while there was a Christian bumper sticker on the rear of my truck, and it helped me to be a better driver.

 
Jan’s thoughts:

This is a pretty facility, aesthetically pleasing in color and d├ęcor. I did not notice directional signage, but we arrived with just enough time to use the restrooms before the service began.

The sanctuary walls, ceiling, and pews were white/off-white, with light green padding on the pews. Consequently the stained glass windows on either side were the bright spots (literally and figuratively) of the sanctuary.

I appreciated the user-friendliness of the bulletin, as I was able to fold the one full sheet containing the Order of Worship and place all the inserts inside to read later.

In early July this church lost its installed pastor after a 1½ year battle with pancreatic cancer. I had hoped God was directing us there for the purpose of ministering to them, but the members seem to be in the early stages of grief and were busy ministering to each other. Ultimately I suppose that’s a sign of a healthy church, as they are being the church to each other.

The message, “The Unexpected Blessing,” was presented by Dr. Bill Johnson, who serves as Chaplain for LIFE Pittsburgh. While looking at their website to learn more about the organization, I was astounded to see they reside in the same building to which our office moved just over a month ago. The world gets smaller every day.

The message wound around the meaning of the Aaronic blessing (above). The most heartwarming thing to me was to learn that in the Hebrew the blessing is addressed to individuals, not especially to Israel as a whole. This is further proof to me (as if further proof were necessary…) of the personal nature of our God and His love for us. He cares for each one individually. As the preacher pointed out, God blesses in tangible ways, He blesses with grace, and He blesses with His peace.

I am overwhelmed by His grace.

 
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we lift this church up to You and ask that You walk them through their grief. We pray You will lead pastors to them to bring them comfort and restore their joy in You. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Fairmount Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Fairmount Presbyterian Church, 2535 Fairmount Church Road, Sewickley, PA 15143, 412.364.7880, www.fairmountarpchurch.vpweb.com, Anthony Alan Cowley, Pastor.

 
Scripture – Mark 7:24-37 (NIV)
Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an evil spirit came and fell at his feet.

The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.

“First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”

“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”

She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis.

There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged him to place his hand on the man. After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means, “Be opened!”).

At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.

Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it.

People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

 
Bob’s thoughts:

This church has been on our list to visit for a long time and I am glad He led us here today. We must have been greeted by most of the church as I think there were fewer than two dozen of us in worship. The pastor quoted Matthew 18:20 (“Where two or more are gathered in My Name…”) and I know Christ was there.

The sanctuary is white on white with a soft gold trim. The cross is yellow gold looked small, but against the large white wall it became a good focal point. There was signage downstairs and the restrooms were marked but a woman led us to the area.

Something I have not experienced before: the church was silent before the service started.

The pastor knelt at the Communion table for prayer, which made a powerful statement.

The sermon was “He Has Done Everything Well!” Some highlights: “You don’t need the Devil to sin, he is happy to let you sin by yourself.” We must live through our trials, we can’t read ahead to see how things work out. We ask God to bless us, but want Him to bless us our way. We prefer God to be a footnote that we can apply whenever…to our country, to ourselves. There is no way but to come in humility and submit to God and plea for His mercy.

I thought the message went a little wide; the pastor brought it back into focus with Scripture, a good conclusion, and relevance to today.

Each of us is part of the ongoing story of Christ.

 
Jan’s thoughts:

This is another church I pass on my commute to work, so it’s been on our list for a while.

The facility is older, decorated simply, and well cared for. I was impressed with the signage, especially the directional signs to the restrooms. We received a warm welcome and were able to wander around the premises briefly.

We thought we had something of an idea what to expect at a Reformed Presbyterian church, but found our impressions were not entirely accurate. The music was an important part of worship, and the songs were all new to me.

I appreciated the pastor’s kneeling on one knee to offer the Pastoral Prayer. There was a fair amount of Scripture reading throughout the service, which was a treat, as it is often abbreviated.

The sermon was entitled “He Has Done Everything Well!” The part that spoke to me had to do with the woman who asked Jesus to heal her daughter and the subsequent conversation and, ultimately, the healing.

I always found this exchange to be fascinating, as Jesus’ response seemed so out of character. The pastor pointed out that she was a sub-plot…just as we are. As important as each person is, we are not the point. Each individual receives personal attention, but we are still illustrations in God’s story.

And just as the woman in this portion of Scripture accepted her position but did not let it determine the outcome of the encounter, we too should not give up. The woman did not respond to Jesus with a list of her qualifications, but with a statement of faith in His goodness.

We want God to be a footnote in our lives, but if we submit to God’s plan and join Him, we can be a real live point in God’s story.

The Holy Spirit spoke to me through this sermon and gave me answers to some recent questions. Again I am grateful for God’s leading.

 
Our prayer for this church:
Dear Father, We pray this church realizes and accepts that they are part of the ongoing story of Christ, and that they go forward boldly, acting for You. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Community Bible Church

Today we worshiped at Community Bible Church, 4549 Route 151, Aliquippa, PA 15001, 724.375.5800, Dr. Robert W. Kern, Pastor.

 
Scripture – 2 Timothy 1:1-8
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, according to the promise of life that is in Christ Jesus,

To Timothy, my dear son:

Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. Recalling your tears, I log to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God,…

 
Bob’s thoughts:

We did find the church we had planned to visit but the service started at least a half hour earlier than the website indicated. They were also miles from where the online map and the GPS said they should be. We were early for the church we passed on our travel and stayed there for worship.

We were warmly welcomed by a number of people, and most asked where we were from. We sat in on an adult Bible study where quite a few adults were in attendance and actively checking Scripture with the leader. The speaker made mention of men crying or not over various stimuli, and I was hoping to catch him after the service to tell him that as a Marine I don’t cry but at times my eyes sweat profusely.

I was disappointed not to find a cross in the sanctuary and somewhat surprised to find an all male choir, joined later by five brass horns. I don’t know if that is the norm or special for Labor Day.

There was a bittersweet solo rendition of “It Is Well with My Soul.” A beautiful delivery of a song sung at church the day after our son’s death.

The message was delivered by a visiting pastor and dealt with our complacency in our faith and being faithful servants. The speaker introduced the concepts with a personal story and developed the sermon with numerous Scriptural references. It was good to hear the concerns of spiritual warfare addressed. We tend to want to avoid hearing about or talking about the Devil. The congregation seemed to be receptive.

 
Jan’s thoughts:

This was one of those mornings full of adventure…we headed to a particular church, even using the GPS this time. And when GPS said we were arriving, it turned out to be an auto repair shop. So we drove, asking God to lead us to where He wanted us to be today. We found the church we originally planned to attend, even thinking we were early, but when we walked in they were already partway through the sermon. So instead we returned to a church we had passed on the way.

We were greeted the moment we walked in; we decided to tour the facility and encountered a friendly couple. The husband had served in the Army in Vietnam, so he and Bob talked some while his wife and I chatted.

Following our brief tour, we went back upstairs and, after being greeted by a few more folks, decided to sit in the sanctuary during the adult Sunday school. We hesitated even after three invitations as we didn’t want to interrupt, but it was an interesting presentation by a member who is a police officer who spoke to the issue of how he reconciles his faith with the requirements of his job.

I couldn’t help but notice that the choir was comprised of 12 men and no women, and they sounded amazing when they sang “Rise Up, O Men of God.” For their marvelous presentation of “Abide with Me” they were accompanied by two trumpets and three trombones. The other musical joy was a solo of “It Is Well with My Soul.”

The guest preacher was a friend of the congregation, Pastor Kerry Allen, who currently serves Fox River Baptist Church, Aurora, IL.

The message began and ended with the observation that we often forget we are fighting a spiritual battle. Among his excellent points: the Bible is the source God uses to energize us for the battle; we are continually given strength for the battle…we are not required to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps; the world hates God and it hates us, and there is supposed to be something different enough about us for the world to hate us; our personal battle is not lost as long as we struggle against the desires of our flesh.

An assertion I found fascinating was that David danced before the Ark when it was returned to its rightful home, but after his affair with Bathsheba he did not dance again. The implication was that that sin was a defining event in David’s life that removed the spontaneous joy from his relationship with God. How truly sad to think of that.

I totally agree with his statements, though. All who walk this earth most definitely are in the midst of a spiritual battle, and we do tend to forget this. We get caught up in the demands of life, in the desires of our flesh (not only fleshly desires, but those too), and we forget that Satan is constantly working to erode our relationship with God. We work hard to be liked by those who hate God and to be strong in our own strength. We need to cease being afraid of the things the world tells us to fear and turn our weak, helpless, blind selves toward the God Who loves us, Who fights for us, and Who has already made a way for us to spend everlasting life with Him. We need to seek and accept His power through His Word on a daily basis. In Him, the battle is already won.

 
Our prayer for this church:
Dear Lord, remind us all that “it is a war out there.” Continue to guide and reassure us in resisting the demons that so easily draw us away from You; strengthen our resolve in You. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.