Sunday, October 28, 2012

Our Lady of Peace

Today we worshiped at Our Lady of Peace, 1000 3rd Avenue, Conway, PA 15027, 724.869.3024,, Fr. Jack Fitzgerald, Pastor.

Scripture –
Reading 1 – Jeremiah 31:7-9
This is what the Lord says: “Sing with joy for Jacob; shout for the foremost of the nations. Make your praises heard, and say, ‘O Lord, save your people, the remnant of Israel.’

See, I will bring them from the land of the north and gather them from the ends of the earth. Among them will be the blind and the lame, expectant mothers and women in labor; a great throng will return.

They will come with weeping; they will pray as I bring them back. I will lead them beside streams of water on a level path where they will not stumble, because I am Israel’s father, and Ephraim is my firstborn son.

Reading 2 – Hebrews 5:1-6
Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to represent them in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness.

This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people. No one takes this honor upon himself; he must be called by God, just as Aaron was.

So Christ also did not take upon himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.”

And he says in another place, “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”

Reading 3 – Mark 10:46-52
Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (that is, the Son of Timaeus), was sitting by the roadside begging.

When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.”

Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

“Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

Bob’s thoughts:

I see God’s sense of humor in sending us to a Catholic church on Reformation Sunday. I have been to this church a few times for ecumenical services and funerals, but this was our first Mass.

The sanctuary is pleasant and tasteful. I like the chancel wall with panels in blue shades and the great stained glass in the back wall. In a Catholic church I was assured of a cross. I was impressed with the choir, small in number but great sound. Sitting all the way in the back, I couldn’t see or hear much of the children’s message.

There was a song after the first Scripture reading that had a distinctive Jewish sound to it.

The homily was a little hard for me to hear but some points: a physical healing from a renewal of baptismal vows, spiritual blindness and blindness of culture being overcome by the light of the Holy Spirit.

So often of late we have had the elements of Communion offered silently; it was refreshing to hear the Bread of Life spoken.

Being first-time visitors to a denomination with which we are not familiar certainly limits us. The congregation seemed engaged with a good mix of young and old, so it seems to be a healthy church.

Jan’s thoughts:

Somehow I did not expect our first visit to a Roman Catholic Church to fall on Reformation Sunday, but it goes to prove God has a sense of humor.

Not surprisingly, this visit was very different than most of our others, but I noticed many things that were the same: in a church with more than one service, almost no one ever recognizes a visitor; a good choir sounds good no matter their number; and again I was reminded that God can be present even where I don’t fully understand/agree with the theology.

We recalled attending a community ecumenical service here a few years ago; the d├ęcor is memorably bright and colorful and the signage is good.

The Order of Worship is a tri-folded 11x17 sheet which was very helpful for a visitor, especially one who is unfamiliar with Mass. I expected the service to be difficult to follow, but it was actually fairly easy.

The (seemingly) untitled homily wound around the universality of spiritual blindness and the importance of adhering to Scriptural instruction. He stated that if we are unfaithful stewards, God will not provide, so if we want God to provide, we must strive to be faithful stewards. And when we are lost we should cry out to Jesus as did Bartimaeus.

Had we realized earlier that Communion would be offered we could have asked if it was acceptable for non-Catholics to participate, but as it was we did not partake. We were surprised during the sacrament to be able to hear the words “The Body and Blood of Christ for you” spoken to each congregant.

Our prayer for this church:
We pray, Lord, that Your light will break through any “blindness” in this church. Let the light of Your Spirit shine brightly to guide the church forward in faith. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Bridgeway Church

Today we worshiped at Bridgeway Church, 424 Duss Avenue, Ambridge, PA 15003, 724.266.3052,, Mike Santistevan, Lead Pastor.

Scripture – Colossians 1:15-20
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

Bob’s thoughts:

On the way to the church we chose to visit today God re-directed us to the church we chose to visit. Bridgeway was meeting in the local school and did have a sandwich board sign outside. When we showed up there was no sign, a full parking lot, and a sports event on the field. I thought we would just select a local church to visit but I first wanted to show Jan a church sign I had noticed…it turned out to be the new location of Bridgeway.

We were warmly welcomed and offered coffee; a few noticed my Marine shirt and offered comments. I was pleased to see a large wooden cross, something I missed.

I brought my earplugs but didn’t need them although the volume was a little high for the announcements and the start of the message. The decibel level has been such a problem in other worship services that the lower volume here added greatly to my enjoyment of worship.

To honor and thank the pastor, the deacons and elders came forward to lay on hands and pray for him and his family. They also thanked the young woman who takes care of the children during the service. I peeked in downstairs toward the end of the service for what sounded like Junior Church.

The pastor’s wife read the Scripture with passion and inflection, a welcome introduction to the message. The sermon was part of a series and dealt with our complacency as Christians. We are so used to Christ that we start to feel that we need Jesus plus something else, that beyond the Creator we need some of what He created. The Scriptures state Jesus reveals God, is the Creator/Sustainer, and the Re-Creator/Reconciler. It was a good Biblical message and I felt God speaking through him.

I was remembering a bit from a movie where the lead character was leaving and identifying the few useless items he was taking with him stating, “This is all I need.” It sounds like us when we desire something He created over the Creator.

Jan’s thoughts:

We’ve seen signs for this church for a while along Duss Avenue in Ambridge.

It’s a friendly place: we were recognized immediately as visitors and greeted by several folks, then invited to stay for refreshments afterward, which turned out to be in recognition of Pastor Appreciation Month.

During worship the church officers came forward and prayed for the pastor and his family and the young woman who cares for the children during worship.

We fully anticipated needing our earplugs, but such was not the case. They used the same equipment as at other churches, but we had none of the usual issues with the volume and I enjoyed the music.

The brief presentation about preparing boxes for Operation Christmas Child was well-done, informative, and cute.

The message is part of a series called “Jesus is Better.” He pointed out that we can become accustomed to knowing Jesus and come to take Him for granted. However the single greatest need of the human heart is for reconciliation with the Creator, and faith in Christ is the only route to that destination. He stated that “freedom = living according to our design within the restrictions God has designed for us, and then and only then can we function according to our design.”

I couldn’t agree more with this message…it was a word of caution and a reminder to stay focused on Christ.

Our prayer for this church:
Awesome Lord God, we pray we all remember that You are all we will ever need, and we all need to be forever with You. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Northbridge Community Church

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

Scripture – 1 Samuel 16:6-13
When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.”

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The Lord has not chosen this one either.” Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the Lord chosen this one.” Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The Lord has not chosen these.”

So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”

“There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered, “but he is tending the sheep.” Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”

So he sent and had him brought in. He was ruddy, with a fine appearance and handsome features. Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; he is the one.”

So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came upon David in power. Samuel then went to Ramah.

Bob’s thoughts:

I thought it odd to revisit a church that we had worshiped at a few times. The purpose was to help our grandchildren feel more comfortable in their respective child care areas. I don’t know what support we might have been, seeing them before and after the service (children are not present in the sanctuary), but we went. We both got a lot from the sermon and didn’t doubt God’s leading us there.

Some random observations:

  • We have been welcomed, but even when identified as visitors we were not engaged in conversation. I thought that conversation with visitors might come easier at a church that valued small groups.
  • I am not sure of the purpose of the parking attendants. For me they seem like one more distraction to worry about in a small parking area.
  • I don’t know if attendance is kept, but it looked like there are fewer people each time we visit. Perhaps the early service is more sparsely attended.
The church is presented as an alternative for those not comfortable with traditional church, so I can see where a cross or other symbolism might not be welcoming. I hear all the references (“We raise our cross,” etc.) and wonder if the symbols should be there.

The offering is taken up very efficiently, passing a small bucket down each row and someone retrieving at the other end of the row.

The message was another from a series by Andy Stanley and raised the question what does God think about you? Not does God think what I think about me? God’s interest is not what we have done in the past but where our hearts are today.

He talked about peoples’ excuses for discerning God’s will for them. I have said that I lament God waiting 50 years to call me, and now realize maybe I wasn’t listening so well. The parts of my life that I thought were such a detriment to serving Christ are frequently the very things He uses for His glory.

When Northbridge moved in one of the major improvements for me was a sign on Freedom Crider Road identifying where to turn; I hope they bring it back.

Jan’s thoughts:

In an effort to help the grandchildren adjust to their new surroundings, we again visited Northbridge.

Truth be told, I was happy to do so; partly for the grandchildren, of course, but partly because I wanted to hear the conclusion of the message series, “Game Plan,” about finding God’s will for my life. The one previous message for which I had been present started me on a journey of self-discovery that has continued for the last three weeks and which shows no signs of ending soon. In short, I was hooked.

More people spoke with us than in the past, possibly because we arrived earlier than usual before things got very busy.

Andy Stanley preached the final installment in this message series, and I do appreciate his preaching style. He is relaxed, conversational, and well-grounded in Scripture.

One of the major points was that humans tend to think that God thinks about us the way we think about us, that He takes His cue about us from us. But based on the Scripture above, it is clear that “God does not see as man sees.” Andy pointed out that “what you did yesterday is of far less concern to God than where your heart is today. God is in the redemption and restoration business, and He uses the things we consider obstacles to bring about His plans in and through us.”

This afternoon I have begun listening to the messages I missed from this series, and I plan to listen to them all. The messages are accessible from the church’s website, and I highly recommend this series if you, like me, are trying to discern God’s plan for your life.

Our prayer for this church:
Dear Father, We pray for discernment for this congregation, that they may hear Your call. And when they obey Your will may they be amazed at how You use their objections for Your and their good. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Concord Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Concord Presbyterian Church, 2832 Conway-Wallrose Road, Baden, PA 15005, 724.869.9135,, Rev. Dr. John Wiebe, Pastor.

Scripture – 1 Corinthians 11:23-26
For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Bob’s thoughts:

This special weekend with all of our family in town, including all 8 grandchildren, our plans need to be flexible and fluid.

We worshiped at Concord Presbyterian to hear their new minister. The church has a good age mix with lots of children. We were welcomed warmly, although we know many of the people.

A favorite aspect of this church is the cross, obscured by the screen for the first part of the service, and the joy when the screen is raised.

The sermon explained some of the meaning of the Lord’s Supper. We were reminded that Christ’s sacrifice involved more than the crucifixion: His whole life was sacrificial. A powerful point for me was that when we commune with Christ, we are also sharing with the saints. We partake of the elements in Christ’s Presence and our late son is there. It causes my eyes to sweat.

The pastor told a story of an unwelcome girl who attended a Presbyterian church and sat in the back by herself. At this point I knew the pastor’s background was not Presbyterian as they all sit in the back.

I appreciated the prayers during Communion, and though the elements were offered silently, it was with dignity.

We got to talk a bit with the pastor after the service and could see God’s leading him to this church. I pray that the congregation embraces his ideas to lead them outward.

Jan’s thoughts:

We have worshiped at this church numerous times in the past. This time we were accompanying family who were visiting for the weekend.

This is a lovely small church in a rural setting, full of people who really are very much like family. The more we see them, the more we have come to appreciate this congregation.

The pastor is brand new here, and seems to have enough experience under his belt to handle unexpected situations with grace and I appreciated the time he took afterward to speak with us.

The sermon on this World Communion Sunday was entitled “The Meaning of the Lord’s Supper,” in which he pointed out that Communion is one of the major differences between Christianity and other faiths. It was instituted by Christ Himself and is full of symbolism. The touching thing to me was the reminder that when we celebrate the Sacrament of Communion, we commune with Christ and with all the saints, past and present.

That last thought takes on special significance when I consider that it includes our son. What an amazing hope we are offered through our faith in Christ! Wherever would we be without it?

Our prayer for this church:
Holy Lord, we pray Your blessing on this commencement at Concord Church. We ask that You inspire them through their new leader to go out in Your Name. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.