Sunday, December 29, 2013

Allegheny Center Alliance Church

Today we worshiped at Allegheny Center Alliance Church, 250 East Ohio Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15212, 412.321.4333, www.acac.net, Pastor Rockwell Dillaman.

 
Scripture – John 5:2-17

Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie – the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”

But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’”

So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”

The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.

Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.

So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.”

 
Bob’s thoughts:

This church is spread over numerous buildings in an urban setting; we had looked forward to visiting for some time.

I was surprised not to find a cross somewhere although there may have been one projected on the wall. The large sanctuary was pleasantly and tastefully decorated.

With the number of people worshiping on a Sunday it is understandable that no one would recognize us as visitors.

I thought the musicians were talented. Also they must have a good business manager to keep this all together.

The sermon was based on the paralyzed man whom Christ healed at the Pool of Bethesda from the 5th chapter of John. The message was well developed and delivered.

One of the interesting points was the man didn’t search after Jesus to thank Him or even to see who He was. We are all a thankless lot, we focus on the gift and not the Giver, and we quickly forget how low we were.

God spoke to me through the message: I have not been near what I can be in Christ. This was a wake-up call to get back to where God was calling me.

 
Jan’s thoughts:

I am overjoyed we finally made it here. The size of this complex is surprising, and though we wandered around some I’m sure there was much we did not see.

In addition to a Saturday service, there are four services on Sundays. We arrived before the earliest service let out so were able to note the sanctuary was just about filled to capacity, and the same was true of the service we attended.

Naturally, with a congregation this size it is not possible to notice visitors, but those with whom we spoke were gracious and hospitable.

I know many churches have a counselor on staff, but this one has a Counseling Ministries Department.

The facility was beautifully decorated and the sanctuary especially was stunning with icicle lights all around, amazing lighting, and an impressive sound system that did not overwhelm even our sensitive ears.

Early in the service one of the pastors spoke some and lead a prayer during which all present were given a moment to ask God what He wanted to be different in our individual lives, then reminded that we need to trust and obey and to have faith in God, not faith in our faith.

The sermon, “Powerful Evidence,” explored the importance of gratitude and a personal relationship with Christ as both a basis for and evidence of our witness. A couple of points that caught my attention were: we cannot be powerful on our own, we need God’s Spirit to be powerful; the healed man in the Scripture, his focus was off…like the religious authorities, he was more concerned about the legalities of carrying a mat on the Sabbath than in knowing Jesus’ name or expressing gratitude for his healing.

He quoted A.W. Tozer that “God waits to be wanted,” and warned against being what Tozer called “nominal Christians” who warily watch God from a distance but refused to make a commitment to follow Him. He referred to those people as “God stalkers” and queried those present whether we wanted to know God or were content just to be God stalkers.

I was strongly affected by this worship service. The preacher spoke with passion about “our living, passionate God.” The third point in his sermon notes was, “He (the healed man) had been in that sad condition for so long that his will was as paralyzed as his body.” I know how it feels to be healed from a lack of expectation and hope, and this message made me realize I want and need to know the Healer more.

 
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray the world will see Your glory. May we always seek to be a beacon for You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Mill Creek United Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Mill Creek United Presbyterian Church of Hookstown, 5005 State Route 151, Hookstown, PA 15050, 724.573.1610 or 724.573.9579, www.millcreekworship.org, Rev. Nathan Weller, Pastor.

 
Scripture – Luke 2:8-20 (ESV)

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

 
Bob’s thoughts:

This church was on our list for a long time. We looked for it a few times; we did find it once but worship time had changed and God lead us elsewhere.

We found the restrooms and, I believe, the nursery – which had access to a good cry room, but directional signage could be helpful.

We were warmly welcomed at the door and I thought that might be the case inside. I gathered that people thought we were there for the baptism but it was still odd to be greeted by only a few. Even the forced hello’s during the Passing of the Peace were few. But once we were out of the sanctuary and down in fellowship hall, we were welcomed by many, providing a vastly different impression in the two areas.

The sanctuary is pleasant with a great wooden cross. I was impressed with the decorations, but not just the Christmas trimmings: the attention to d├ęcor was impressive throughout. The indirect lighting was appealing. I appreciated the comfortable pew cushions, attractive garland on the beams, and handsome banners.

We were pleased to witness a baptism and some beautiful young children.

I really enjoyed the young woman who played the piano and we always appreciate a good bell choir.

The sermon, “The Gospel of Luke: A Proud Papa,” raised a question I never thought of: when Jesus was born, did the relatives comment on who He looked like? I remember those times with our children, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren.

When my Dad was shown a new baby he always said the child looked like Fritzie Zivic (a boxer from Pittsburgh), and I frequently said the same. But when our children and grands were born, they were too beautiful. I still couldn’t tell you which features looked like whom, but they were beautiful children of God. God the Father doesn’t deal with any of this…He sends the message of Who Christ is.

Probably the best point was that even those whom Christ healed still died. I don’t know how many in the congregation got that.

I had difficulty hearing the pastor sometimes; it probably would require only a minor audio adjustment to dampen the echo.

I was pleased when the congregation was guided to pray for God to convict them of their sins that they might pray for forgiveness in preparation for Communion the coming week.

 
Jan’s thoughts:

We attempted to visit this church several times in the past but for various reasons we did not actually make it here for worship. Today, however, was a different story.

The narthex is on the larger side, and the decorations, both Christmas and everyday, are arranged by someone with an obvious talent. The facility is lovely and well cared for. Signage was plentiful, and not only the restrooms but also the stairs and other doors that visitors notice but are left to wonder about.

The gentleman who was acting as greeter took the time for conversation and extended an invitation to join the fellowship time downstairs following the service. After a brief self-guided tour we found seats in the sanctuary, and in the time before worship began several folks said hello on their way past; everyone looked very busy and preoccupied.

Hearing the bell choir was a treat, as well as witnessing a baptism.

The young woman playing the piano was quite good but the music seemed to lack any feeling from the choir or the congregation.

A wall in the front was appropriately used as a projection screen where some of the liturgy and music were displayed, and even from the very back the words were easy to read. During the Prayers and Concerns, those that were listed in the bulletin were also displayed.

The sermon, “The Gospel of Luke: A Proud Papa,” was an interesting spin on God as Jesus’ Father. Like an earthly father, He was proud of His Child and wanted everyone to admire Him.

There were several things that caught my ear as he referred our faith: we are to come and see, then go and tell; as you tell, you never know who might be listening in; how anxious the congregation is to see others join proves whether this is a church or a social club. I always admire a preacher who tells it like it is, and this is a vital point.

I thought the placement of the Passing of the Peace of Christ – following the benediction – was awkward, but it turned out to be excellent. Conversation often flows naturally at this point, and it led to our joining fellowship time. What I found fascinating was the difference in the level of friendliness…once we got downstairs the greetings were extended and there was great conversation. Very glad we stayed.

 
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray You would convict us all that we might prepare to partake of Communion, that we would prepare to meet You. We pray You will let us see our lives from Your perspective. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Real Life Christian Church

Today we worshiped at Real Life Christian Church, 233 Merchant Street, Ambridge, PA 15003, 724.252.6299, www.RealLife4You.com, Robert Hale, Pastor.

 
Scripture – I Corinthians 2:16
For,

“Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?”

But we have the mind of Christ.

 
Bob’s thoughts:

The church was toasty warm on a cold day, and to make the welcome warmer, I was also greeted by a Marine. The only cross I found was projected on the screen before the service.

During the announcements they talked about a free dinner for their neighbors on the 22nd. The food will be provided by Discovery Church in Cranberry and the only thing they would need is cookies. The plan is to pack some cookies in a bag with an invitation to attend worship here…a viable plan.

The pastor prayed insightfully for what he might say and for what the people might hear.

The sermon was part of a series on maybe lesser-thought-of “Gifts of Christ.” Past weeks were on direction and rest, today’s on perspective.

In 2 Kings 6:15-17, when the servant expressed his fear of the army surrounding them, Elisha asked God to open the servant’s eyes to God’s perspective of the legions of angels surrounding them. We need to also pray for God’s perspective on our lives.

We were once forced to move from a house that we had lived in for some time. I was convinced that God had a place for us already picked out and I was completely at ease with His plan. I wish I had done a better job of convincing my family, but God’s plan worked perfectly and the next move we made was a lot easier for everyone to trust God’s perspective on where we were to go.

[Note from Jan: During that time Bob lead by example, and he convinced me to adopt his perspective. The more I said “God has a place for us,” the more I was able to believe that, and I was ever grateful for his example to follow.]

A reminder was quoted that Jesus stated wherever your treasure is, there your heart is also. Pray to “Please let me see life from Your perspective.”

For a number of years I tended an ever-larger garden that rendered a lot of produce to donate to the local food bank. I had convinced myself that even though the endeavor was killing me, it was God’s calling. When I finally asked for God’s perspective, I got a much different plan…God’s not Bob’s.

 
Jan’s thoughts:

We are well familiar with the Center for Hope in Ambridge but did not realize the building they vacated is now occupied by this church. Since the group is small, today they met in an area reminiscent of a school but is easier to heat than a church on this cold day.

The congregation is small and extremely friendly; I believe every single other person present greeted us.

The bulletin looks festive and is extremely readable.

Much effort is going into a free spaghetti dinner for the community next Sunday, December 22. It will be held here in conjunction with Discovery Christian Church in Cranberry. (Call 724.252.6299 for further information and/or to support this very worthy endeavor!)

This message series is “Christmas Gifts!” and focuses on unusual gifts such as direction and rest, and now perspective.

The pastor affirmed that how we see something makes all the difference. He outlined three steps: ask for it (“and keep asking”), wait for it (“you learn to wait by waiting”), and go for it (“do what you can when you can, walking in faith”).

In the course of his message the pastor suggested that if we really want to know how God sees something, we should ask God to help us see life from His perspective. He warned that when this prayer is from the heart God will answer it, and when He does, our perspective will change drastically. It can also aid in unwrapping God’s gift of perspective and putting it to use.

 
Our prayer for this church:
Father, we pray for Your guidance as this church steps out in faith, going into the community seeking those who do not yet know they are seeking You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Christian Assembly Church

Today we worshiped at Christian Assembly Church, 6241 Tuscarawas Road, Industry, PA 15052, 724.643.8885, cafamily.net, Pastor Bill Anzevino.

 
Scripture - KJV

Ephesians 3:15-17

Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,

That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man;

That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love…

John 3:16

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

 
Bob’s thoughts:

This was a larger facility than I expected with a sizeable parking area. We were welcomed at the door and then greeted in the narthex and directed toward the sanctuary.

I noticed no directional signage. I thought it might be too loud for me with 15 people on stage, but the volume was bearable. The sanctuary is larger with lots of decorations for Christmas, but no cross to be found.

I think the sermon was part of a series on the love of God. The pastor’s passion was evident and seemed to extend to the congregation. He quoted a great deal of Scripture to reinforce his message but with his passion I was surprised the sermon wasn’t shorter.

It made me smile that I was greeted by a Marine in the parking lot on the way out.

 
Jan’s thoughts:

Had we arrived earlier we would have wandered around looking at the elaborate decorations. Several people greeted us warmly including a gentleman who turned out to be a member of the staff, who introduced himself and pointed us toward the sanctuary.

The entire facility was superbly maintained and strikingly decorated for the Christmas season; signage was minimal though.

From our seats toward the back we could see all four projection displays, two on the front walls and displays on each side wall as well, which I’ve never seen before but in this size sanctuary, it makes a lot of sense.

The music seemed professional and the acoustics were excellent.

In the course of praying for two families who had lost loved ones the pastor referred to them as having encountered the storm of bereavement, which I thought was a fitting description.

The message was part two of the series “The Love of God” in which the pastor explored the depth, breadth, width, and height of God’s love for the world and for each individual in it.

 
Our prayer for this church:
Father, we pray this congregation continues to be receptive to the leading of the pastor and that You continue to lead the leaders. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Forest Hills Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Forest Hills Presbyterian Church, 1840 Ardmore Boulevard, Pittsburgh, PA 15221, 412.241.1647, www.fhpcpa.org, Rev. Ben Black, Pastor.

 
Scripture

Psalm 106:1-13

Praise the Lord.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.

Who can proclaim the mighty acts of the Lord or fully declare his praise?

Blessed are those who act justly, who always do what is right.

Remember me, Lord, when you show favor to your people, come to my aid when you save them, that I may enjoy the prosperity of your chosen ones, that I may share in the joy of your nation and join your inheritance in giving praise.

We have sinned, even as our ancestors did; we have done wrong and acted wickedly.

When our ancestors were in Egypt, they gave no thought to your miracles; they did not remember your many kindnesses, and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea.

Yet he saved them for his name’s sake, to make his mighty power known.

He rebuked the Red Sea, and it dried up; he led them through the depths as through a desert.

He saved them from the hand of the foe; from the hand of the enemy he redeemed them.

The waters covered their adversaries; not one of them survived.

Then they believed his promises and sang his praise.

But they soon forgot what he had done and did not wait for his plan to unfold.

Colossians 1:11-16

(B)eing strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.

 
Bob’s thoughts:

This church enjoys a stately wooden cross accented by the peaked ceiling, and the colorful stained glass added drama.

The words for the songs and most Scripture passages were projected on the rear wall of the chancel. I appreciated seeing the words to the anthem: they were simple and easy to follow and understand, but it added power to see them in print. The solos were wonderful also.

We were almost welcomed during the Passing of the Peace of Christ; the exception was a vet who had occasion to land on Iwo Jima and distinctly appreciated Marines, especially the 6,000+ who gave their lives for that rock on which to land.

The sermon, “Thanksgiving in Advent,” dealt with giving thanks as we come to celebrate Advent. The message was personal to me from God.

My thanks to God come easy; He has blessed me overwhelmingly and I remember His intercession in my life. However I still struggle with showing gratitude to others for all the little everyday things in my life.

Saying thank you looks beyond oneself, and you cannot be too thankful.

To illustrate a point the pastor mentioned carrying two buckets of mud (mortar) on a job. It brought back memories of a job of mine when none of the teenage help showed up and two of us carried two buckets of concrete up two forty-foot ladders to place multiple yards of concrete.

I enjoyed the young girl who sang the offertory, “It’s About the Cross.” She had a great smile too.

Communion was served silently, and I noted the pastor was served by the elders. It was especially powerful after watching “The Bible,” including the crucifixion.

 
Jan’s thoughts:

Arriving with time to wander around gave us an opportunity to notice the ample signage: I was especially delighted by the useful restroom signs that jutted into the hallway. The facility is nicely decorated and well cared for. Coffee and treats in the narthex was a hospitable gesture to guests and members alike.

I had the feeling a few people would have liked to greet their visitors but all in all, few did.

The unique stained glass windows contain large images in bold colors and a large empty wall on the rear of the chancel makes a convenient PowerPoint screen.

It was a joy to participate in Communion, and I especially appreciated the Invitation liturgy. I loved that the words put some emotion into it. And the soft guitar music that was played while the elements were distributed added much.

The message, “Thanksgiving in Advent,” stressed the importance of remembering what God has done for us in the past and cultivating “a thankful approach to Christmas and to life.” He declared that our perception and thinking will be transformed if, instead of focusing on what we “need” or “deserve” we rejoice over our abundant blessings. Also that “thank you can never be overused in a relationship, including our relationship with God.”

I believe remembering what God has done in the past feeds our faith in Him for the future.

 
Our prayer for this church:
Heavenly Father, we pray for an awakening of thanksgiving in the hearts of all believers. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Christ Bible Church

Today we worshiped at Christ Bible Church, 2721 Rochester Road, Cranberry Township, PA 16066, 724.776.2780, www.cbcofcranberry.org, Jimmy Caraway, Pastor-Teacher.

 
Scripture – Matthew 10:37-42
He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.

 
Bob’s thoughts:

We were warmly welcomed right at the door and in the pew. A large wooden cross is situated over a curtained area; the air currents occasionally move the curtain making it appear to be an open window. The sanctuary was pleasant with great aisle space and comfortable temperatures in spite of the 20 degrees outside.

I appreciated the female vocalist who, although I couldn’t hear her well at first, turned out to have a beautiful voice for leading the praise worship. Also we were entertained by, presumably, her grandson.

My pen started to skip badly during the sermon and my back-up pen was worse, but a phrase I can mostly discern: “God doesn’t send you to where His word didn’t lead you.” The sermon dealt with what Christ calls us to be and do and if we are not willing to put Jesus first, we are not worthy of Him.

I was blessed to watch some beautiful children running around the sanctuary after the service and to talk with some other veterans.

 
Jan’s thoughts:

A gentleman opened the door for us as we entered and welcomed us with a handshake, a bulletin, and an introduction.

This building is attractive with lots of glass in the entry area and a beautifully decorated worship area. The signage was good, but was a little confusing finding the men’s room as it looked like the arrow was pointing up the steps but instead indicated a slightly different direction on the same floor.

The downstairs pre-school area is colorfully and imaginatively decorated with animals painted on the walls by someone with real talent.

We were warmly greeted and engaged in conversation by most everyone sitting nearby.

The worship area is beautiful with well-coordinated colors, the chairs are comfortable and comfortably spaced.

Kudos to whoever is responsible for the timing of the words on the screen. It was very well done.

I appreciated the passion with which the untitled message was delivered. It focused on what it means to be a true follower of Christ: obedience is required, along with speaking up and continually dying to self. He acknowledged that a true disciple will make enemies because peace with God means we are at war with those who are opposed to Him. He declared that it is our ambitions, desires, and pursuits that keep us from fully following Christ and stated that “taking up our cross is a one-way trip.”

Perhaps I misunderstood his statement that “There is no still, small voice,” but if I did not misunderstand then I must disagree. According to 1 Kings 19:12, that is exactly how God spoke to Elijah, not in the wind, not in the earthquake, and not in the fire, but in a still, small voice. Personally I find that comforting.

 
Our prayer for this church:
Heavenly Father, we pray we all have the courage to truly put You first and live our lives for You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Home

Today we worshiped at Home

 
Bob’s thoughts:

Identifying Visitors

We were both recovering from recent illnesses so we stayed home and listened to a message online. It was a great message that caused us both to think. It became a rainy gray day with a lot of good reasons to stay home, but I still missed being in corporate worship.

One benefit of not worshiping at a particular church is that we can blog without risking offending a church.

Because we are constant visitors we think we are easy to spot, but maybe we don’t stand out as much as we think we do. Here are some tips on recognizing visitors:

Some churches have designated parking spaces for visitors – an easy visitor ID. Have someone monitor who parks there.

Visitors will come in the “wrong” door, look at bulletin boards to see what is going on, perhaps wander around the church or look through printed materials. We look at things that members no longer notice: we admire the banners, stained glass, and woodwork. You may find us looking for restrooms or the nursery

We try to be unobtrusive but sometimes accidentally walk in on a Sunday School class or a meeting. If you see someone you don’t recognize walking through an area where you do not usually see strangers, a visitor is probably lost. An offer to escort them to the area they seek is a courtesy that speaks volumes about your church.

 
Jan’s thoughts:

Due to illnesses we did not want to share, today we listened to a sermon online. Although I always miss corporate worship on days like this, the upside is that we get to hear a message from some time ago at a service we missed, and we always get something from it.

Today I’m still thinking about what we watched on TV last night, as it affected me deeply. Therefore I want to share my written devotion from this morning. I hope you get a blessing from it.

November 17, 2013

Dear God,

Last week we had a coupon for Family Christian Store so we bought the miniseries “The Bible;” and even as we did we wondered when we would find time to watch it. But within the week Bob had a bad cold and I had a cough, so we watched the first 3 hours last night.

It was great! And I was reminded of the importance of reminders. Not only because I was being reminded of Your greatness, Your omniscience, Your grace, mercy, power, and beauty, but as I watched I saw these giants of the faith as they found themselves in situations where they had no answers or solutions, and again and again they reminded themselves and their people of how You had provided and guided in the past: Moses in his confrontations with Pharaoh and again when they were up against the Red Sea; Joshua at Jericho; Abraham prior to Sodom and Gomorrah and at the near-sacrifice of Isaac; Samson at the scene of his demise. They all reminded themselves and others of Your love, faithfulness, and power. Also of their faith in Your goodness.

We need to do this. Too often we fret and pray “Please don’t let this happen; please do this.” How often do we speak like Abraham: “You are a good God… You have always provided… surely You will provide now.”

We need to remember MORE, remind ourselves and others of Your promises and constant faithfulness and unfailing love.

We need to speak well of You instead of the faithless words we tend to use. No wonder our words have so little power – there is so little faith behind them. The words of these biblical giants carried weight and great things happened as a result because their words and hearts were filled with faith in You.

Please continue to help us remember when we lose sight of You Who You are and Whose we are. We belong to the God Who created the universe, Who numbers the hairs of our heads, and Who has good plans for us that cannot be thwarted. May we speak and act like it.

“So he did not do many miracles there because they had no faith.” ~Matthew 13:58

 
Our prayer for the churches:
Dear Lord, We pray the churches recognize their visitors and welcome them as they would You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Cranberry Community United Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Cranberry Community United Presbyterian Church, 2662 Rochester Road, Cranberry Township, PA 16066, 724.776.5310, www.ccupc.org, Pastor James M. Moran and Pastor Nadine L. Roy.

 
Scripture

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 (which means “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.

Luke 8:40-56 -
Now when Jesus returned, a crowd welcomed him, for they were all expecting him. Then a man named Jairus, a synagogue leader, came and fell at Jesus’ feet, pleading with him to come to his house because his only daughter, a girl of about twelve, was dying.

As Jesus was on his way, the crowds almost crushed him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped.

“Who touched me?” Jesus asked.

When they all denied it, Peter said “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you.”

But Jesus said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me.”

Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed. Then he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace.”

While Jesus was still speaking, someone came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” he said. “Don’t bother the teacher anymore.”

Hearing this, Jesus said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.”

When he arrived at the house of Jairus, he did not let anyone go in with him except Peter, John and James, and the child’s father and mother. Meanwhile, all the people were wailing and mourning for her. “Stop wailing,” Jesus said. “She is not dead but asleep.”

They laughed at him, knowing that she was dead. But he took her by the hand and said, “My child, get up!” Her spirit returned, and at once she stood up. Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat. Her parents were astonished, but he ordered them not to tell anyone what had happened.

 
Bob’s thoughts:

We were greeted warmly by the pastor, who was part of the reason for our visit. This delightful young woman went to Grove City with one of our daughters and it has been a joy to note her growth as a pastor.

The people manning the doors all spoke to us and during the passing of Christ’s Peace nearby people greeted us. Actually this is a church I like to visit…I like the wide pew spacing and the lower peaked ceiling focuses to the atrium-like chancel area.

I remember this pastor’s comfort in offertory prayers and that is evident now in the sermon and rest of the service.

The sermon asked, how is God calling us to step out in faith? We should also consider how our stepping out in faith might inspire others in their walk.

The music this morning was inspired, showing how just a few can be enough. The drums at the end were particularly enjoyable.

 
Jan’s thoughts:

It has been about three years since we last visited this church and it is just as well kept and modern-looking as I recalled. One big difference today, though, was that the Welcome Area was occupied by tables full of international hand-made crafts and other products from SERRV. In case this organization is new to you, check out their website at www.serrv.org.

We opted for the 8:45 service for this visit and had a little time to look around. I did not remember seeing the children’s area before: it was colorful and bright and very attractive.

The pastor has been a friend of our daughter’s since they attended Grove City College together, and it was a blessing, as always, to see her. We encountered some friendly people before and after worship, and many greetings were exchanged during the Passing of the Peace.

The sermon was entitled “Interrupted” and spoke to an interesting connection among the stories in these two passages of Scripture.

This sermon referred to the persistence, faith, and desperation of Bartimaeus, Jairus, and the woman with the issue of blood, and how Jesus honored the faith of all three. He responded with grace and compassion, showing each that although society considered them outcasts, they were worthy of His time and attention.

She pointed out that these three stories clearly indicate that some of the greatest results come from unplanned opportunities. Oftentimes the interruptions in our lives are God’s attempt to interrupt our expectations so He can give us more than we even think to ask. Her suggestion was that we work to show the same grace and compassion when our lives are interrupted. Sometimes great blessings come when we let go of what we know and expect.

One statement that caught my ear had to do with the Great Commission as given in Matthew 28:19-20, where Jesus said: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” She declared that the word “go” is more accurately translated “as you are going.” So although “going” as we have is a fine thing to do, it seems it is also quite acceptable to make disciples “as we are going” through life. And how might our perspective change if we choose to view the incidents we see as interruptions as God-ordained appointments instead.

 
Our prayer for this church:
Heavenly Father, we pray this church continues to step out in faith to take Christ to the community and the world. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Faith Full Gospel Church

Today we worshiped at Faith Full Gospel Church, 319 E. New Castle Street, Zelienople, PA 16063, 724.452.5864, www.ffgchurch.com, Pastor Gail R. Davis.

 
Scripture – 1 John 5:1-5 (NKJV)
Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves Him who begot also loves him who is begotten of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep His commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome. For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?

 
Bob’s thoughts:

We were early and were greeted by the pastor who told us of his mission trips and a little about the church.

A large wooden cross adorns the rear chancel wall and some banners/paintings created by a member hang on the side walls.

I sensed more passion in the singing of the contemporary worship songs by these few worshipers in this chapel-like church than any number of large congregations.

A collection was taken for “City Rescue” in New Castle, a good mission.

The sermon, “Knowing God Intimately,” quoted a lot of Scripture to reinforce the message that “God loves me” and that “when you love yourself, you can love others.” Something I hadn’t heard before was that we are also triune, “soul, mind, and spirit.” It is easy for us to claim Christ as GPS, God, Personal Savior, but harder to accept Him as our Lord.

Communion was offered silently in a small circle in the front of the sanctuary. I don’t recall hearing anything about confessing our sins, but a lot of other topics.

Prayers were offered up for local churches, and parishioners responded well when asked to offer some of the other prayers.

 
Jan’s thoughts:

We arrived early, giving us lots of time to visit with the pastor and then others as they arrived. Nearly everyone greeted us and introduced themselves. We started the service with a total of eight people in the sanctuary and, as is customary with contemporary services, others arrived during the musical worship.

At least one member of this congregation is very artistic: in lieu of banners on the walls hung large canvas paintings interpreting their core beliefs and Scripture. I also noticed the directional signage decoratively painted on a piece of shale. It was imaginative and beautiful. On the rear chancel wall was a large wooden cross with uprights flanked by geographic shapes of the continents of the world.

I enjoyed singing some music that I’ve not heard for a while, including “My Savior, My God” by Aaron Shust.

What a blessing to be present as the pastor prayed an impromptu prayer for neighboring churches, specifically naming each one.

The message centered on having and maintaining a relationship with God. The pastor reassured the congregation that God loves each one personally and completely, that God wants us to want to know Him intimately and not just seek His blessings…head knowledge versus heart knowledge. We need to believe God when He says He loves us…we can’t give what we don’t have. He has promised that we will find Him when we get serious about finding Him. He wants to be our Lord as well as our Savior.

The service was closed with Communion as everyone stood in a circle at the front of the sanctuary. The entire service seemed intimate.

 
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray this church comes to You as Lord of their lives, knowing how much You love Your children and learning to love ourselves. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Park United Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Park United Presbyterian Church, 115 E. Grandview Avenue, Zelienople, PA 16063, 724.452.9570, www.parkup.org, Rev. Paul Merrill, Pastor.

 
Scripture – Matthew 22:15-22
Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”

But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.

 
Bob’s thoughts:

We were welcomed at the door and one usher brought a welcome gift to the pew. Some other members came by during the Passing of the Peace of Christ. Some who greeted us politely thanked us for visiting and invited us back.

There is good signage pointing downstairs to the restrooms as well as a large sign pointing the way back up to the sanctuary. In this smaller building it may not be necessary but was appreciated nonetheless.

I remember taking the family to Kennywood Park. There were so many yellow arrow signs pointing the way TO the park that if you missed a turn you likely would come across sign that would point you in the right direction. But coming home in the dark, in the days before GPS, was a challenge. I don’t know if it is possible to enter the church through the basement, but if so, the sign would help. I hope we are all living our lives to create a sign that points others to Christ.

This is a pleasant sanctuary with lots of stained glass and an appealing cross.

The sermon, “Two Kingdoms,” described the Pharisees’ teaming with the Herodians to try to trip up Jesus: they figured a yes-or-no answer regarding paying tribute to Caesar would condemn Christ.

I have always marveled at how succinctly Christ answers His detractors, in as few words as possible. I always hoped to find someone who appreciated the nuances of literature who wasn’t a Christian to confirm my feelings. The few people who fit the bill accepted Christ as Lord and Savior after reading the New Testament, so maybe I got my proof after all.

I was lamenting the “Presbyterian” mode of contemporary worship but learned from the praise band leader that every other week they are free to up-tempo the worship, a comment I found interesting.

 
Jan’s thoughts:

It turned out the two gentlemen who greeted us with bulletins were former members of the military (Army and Navy), so they immediately commented on Bob’s Marine shirt and the conversation was off and running. A warm welcome indeed!

We visited this church some time ago but this time we opted for the early, contemporary service.

The signage was plentiful, obvious, simple, helpful, and included arrows. Even downstairs, exiting the restroom area was a sign pointing the way to the sanctuary.

The atmosphere was warm and friendly; it felt like a family church.

The music was quiet, toned-down contemporary, and the harmony was quite good.

The “Word of God Preached” (as it was fittingly labeled in the bulletin) was entitled “Two Kingdoms,” referring to the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of Caesar. The Pharisees and Herodians set up Jesus in an attempt to discredit Him, but instead He amazed them – and us. The point I appreciated most was that Jesus indicated the coin in this story belonged to the government because it bore Caesar’s image, and because we belong to God, we bear His image. What a comforting reminder.

 
Our prayer for this church:
Holy Lord, You deserve our all. You gave Your all; we owe You everything we have and are. May we return to You gratefully. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

College Hill Reformed Presbterian Church

Today we worshiped at College Hill Reformed Presbyterian Church, 3217 College Hill, Beaver Falls, PA 15010, 724.843.4840, www.collegehillrp.com, Dean Smith & Titus Martin, Pastors.

 
Scripture – Luke 5:1-11 (ESV)

On one occasion, while the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he was standing by the lake of Gennesaret, and he saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. Getting into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, he asked him to put out a little from the land. And he sat down and taught the people from the boat. And when he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.” And Simon answered, “Master, we toiled all night and took nothing! But at your word I will let down the nets.” And when they had done this, they enclosed a large number of fish, and their nets were breaking. They signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both the boats, so that they began to sink. But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” For he and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon. And Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.” And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.

 
Bob’s thoughts:

I love when the Lord lets me run with my expectations and then humbles me and puts me in my place. We were drawn back to College Hill and I wasn’t sure why.

This church is Christ-centered and passionate about worship. It was special to spend time with Jesus there. We were welcomed by a woman at the door and got to talk to a family after the service. My only disappointment beyond the lack of greeting was that I could not find a cross.

With the pastor’s quote ending with, “Sing to the Lord,” I thought an oddity as the Reformed Presbyterian Churches I’ve been to are pretty quiet. But although some songs, in my opinion, were not easy ones to sing, the church was alive in song. There was a robust chorus of male voices, and later females with great harmony and passion. It made for very enjoyable worship in song.

The sermon, “The Biggest Catch,” was based on Christ preaching from Simon Peter’s fishing boat and afterwards their unbelievable catch of fish. These men fished for their livelihood, they knew the area and the time of night to catch fish. But Christ asked him to put down the nets.

What is He asking of us? What we are called to do is at His command and with the power and authority of Christ, we will not fail. He has given us the most powerful tool, the Word of God.

A highlight for me was two children near us that were so pleased to see each other that their parents couldn’t contain them. I was greatly blessed by the obvious love between these two children.

 
Jan’s thoughts:

We came close to worshiping here accidentally a few weeks ago, but were inspired to intentionally attend the early service this week.

The building is old and stone and about two doors down from where our daughters lived as students at Geneva College.

Upon entering we were warmly welcomed and given directions, so I forgot to look for directional signage.

The sanctuary was different in a few ways beginning with the lack of any musical instruments, including the almost universal organ. There were seats that looked like they were for a choir, but only one man sat there. As it turned out, he was plenty. He led all singing with a voice that was clear and strong, and I could understand every word even from the very back row where we sat. There was also no cross, but Bob probably mentioned that.

The bulletin is a work of art: several pages folded, stapled in the center, containing the order of worship, sermon text, sermon outline, calendar information, announcements, and prayer requests.

The singing was led by the gentleman I mentioned, and the congregation participated with gusto, even providing harmony. It was inspiring and exquisite.

The sermon, “The Biggest Catch,” was presented by Pastor Titus Martin. He began by mentioning Alan Watts, a speaker and writer from the 1960s and 1970s who preached “embracing purposelessness,” that there was no meaning to life.

The pastor used the Scripture text to equate Simon’s fishing at God’s command to Jesus’ commission of us to be “fishers of men.” He acknowledged that, humanly speaking we are doomed to failure, but we go at His command and in His power and authority. The tool He gave us is His Word, and we will not fail.

The next question had to do with how we respond, and the pastor stated the only appropriate response to Jesus’ over-the-top blessings is humble pursuit of Him. When Jesus blesses us, instead of humbly falling at His feet, we have a tendency to list the other things we want from Him and remind Him of the things He hasn’t done yet. Do we weep with sorrow over our sin and with gratitude for His grace? Do we humbly pursue and follow or grumble and ask for more?

I appreciated the reminder that cultivating a grateful heart is a good start it falls short of what Jesus Christ is due. He deserves my mind and heart humbly placed at His feet, and every ounce of obedience and gratitude I have.

 
Our prayer for this church:
Holy Lord, we thank You for blessing this church. We ask that you continue to equip and empower them to step out in Your Name. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.