Monday, April 29, 2013

Providence Presbyterian Church

Yesterday we worshiped at Providence Presbyterian Church, 9019 Little River Turnpike, Fairfax, VA 22031, 703.978.3934, www.providencechurch.org, Rev. Dr. Michael P. Burns, Pastor.

Scripture:

Psalm 24 –
The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters.

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear by a false god.

They will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God their Savior.

Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face, God of Jacob.

Lift up your heads, you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.

Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle.

Lift up your heads, you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.

Who is he, this King of glory? The Lord Almighty – he is the King of glory.

John 1:1-5 –
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Bob’s thoughts:

We were in northern Virginia to celebrate a granddaughter’s 3rd birthday and got to worship with two of our daughters at a belated Earth Day service.

This service is in a multi-purpose room and I suspect the screen covers a large cross.

From the responses during the Children’s Message, I wish it had been projected on the large screen.

The sermon was on Earth Day and noted John Muir the naturalist had come from Presbyterian roots with some anecdotal information. I thought it was not a particularly easy topic to preach about, but the concept of “it is all God’s creation and we need to be good stewards in taking care of what God created” was a great summary.

After a few trips to the nursery I was needed to comfort two of my grandchildren, the role I like best. I thought the caregivers were exceptional and was pleased to know the children received such attention.

Child care may seem not to be part of worship, but I will bet to the parents of young children it is a most important part. I have talked to many families who worship where they can trust the child care providers…some who did not care for the service much but come because of the safety and love shown their children. That love was evident in the nursery this day.

Jan’s thoughts:

Yesterday’s worship experience was part of our continuing adventures in celebration of a 3-year-old’s birthday weekend…

This is a beautiful facility, thoughtfully arranged, decorated, and cared for. This time I was able to take a look at the sanctuary also, and even with only one stained glass window in the chancel, it is exceptionally tastefully decorated.

It was announced early in the service that Providence has been named an Earth Care Congregation by the Presbyterian Church (USA), signifying it has met the stringent requirements set forth by the PC(USA). (If you are interested in reading more about this program, click HERE.)

The message was entitled “For the Beauty of the Earth” and centered on Earth Day. I would never have guessed there was such a thing as a “Green Bible” printed on recycled paper using soy-based ink, that it comes in a green-letter edition (more than 1,000 verses pertaining to earth and creation are printed in green), and contains inspirational essays by scholars and leaders such as N. T. Wright, Barbara Brown Taylor, and Brian McLaren.

My heart was broken for the family but warmed at the same time to learn the extent to which the church leaders and members are willing to reach out to the community: following the worship service the church was to be the site of a large memorial gathering to celebrate the life of a local teen who died unexpectedly last week. What a truly significant way to show others the love of Christ.

Our prayer for this church:
Awesome God, continue to pour out Your blessings on this church. Guide them to where You want them to serve. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

St. Stephen's

Today we worshiped at St. Stephen’s, 405 Frederick Avenue, Sewickley, PA 15143, 412.741.1790, www.ststephenschurch.net, Geoff Chapman, Senior Pastor.

Scripture: Luke 24:13-17, 25-35
Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.

He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

“What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?

They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

Bob’s thoughts:

It is always interesting to me how we choose a church and worship there – or choose one and change until we get to where God wants us.

It was close to time for the service to start so we didn’t get to tour the building, but a number of people said hello on the way in.

The church has impressive woodwork ceiling and stained glass with a prominent cross on the wall. An interesting facility, I hope if we are led back we get to tour a bit.

I gathered the sermon was part of a longer series, but today delved into why the disciples didn’t recognize the Risen Christ when He joined them on their travel to Emmaus. They didn’t see Christ because He was hidden in their sadness, He was hidden in His normalness, and most importantly, He was hidden in their bad theology. He wasn’t the king and savior they thought they needed. I wonder how many of us miss out because He isn’t the savior we think we need, and how many are eternally grateful at having been completely overwhelmed by Christ.

It was great to hear the enthusiasm of the choir with the offertory “To God Be the Glory,” a fitting introduction to Communion.

The Communion elements were offered aloud, but I did not detect the wine till I dipped the wafer. I was surprised by the musical selection “As the Deer,” because the hymn was a favorite of our son’s and was sung at his memorial service…a great hymn that is now difficult to hear.

We had a friendly conversation with a soon-to-be pastor with a good speaking voice whom I hope to hear preach.

We had the opportunity to meet the senior pastor and also spend some time with a visitor greeter.

Jan’s thoughts:

This facility is beautifully decorated, immaculate, handicapped accessible, with intricate stained glass and excellent signage.

When a church has more than one service it is generally easy for visitors to be mistaken for someone who attends another service. The handful of folks who greeted us before and immediately after the service gave friendly nods and smiles. We had a warm, pleasant conversation after worship with a member of the staff, the senior pastor, and especially the woman staffing the information desk.

The bulletin was worthy of note: one legal-sized sheet folded lengthwise with the order of worship on the front and back sides and announcements inside the fold.

The projection screen was used throughout the service to display the words for the music, Scripture, prayers, and liturgy.

The choir sang with enthusiasm and the congregation applauded at least twice.

The untitled message was part of the series “The Bible From Beginning to End.”

The first question echoed my own long-standing one, “How could the apostles not have recognized Jesus on the road to Emmaus?” The answer was that He was hidden in several ways: He was hidden under their sadness (Luke 24:17)…it is possible to be just so sad that you cannot see who is in front of you; He was hidden under His normalness (Luke 24:17…it is possible to have Jesus right with you but He looks ordinary so you simply don’t recognize Him; and He was hidden under bad theology (Luke 24:20-21)…the disciples HAD HOPED Jesus would redeem Israel, but after His death they no longer held that hope, not realizing that sin was an even deeper and more pervasive slavery than that of the Romans.

I was deeply touched by the pastor’s point that at the table Jesus blessed the bread, broke it, and gave it…the same thing God the Father did to Christ: blessed Him, broke Him, and gave Him.

Communion was served by intinction with spoken reminders of its meaning, which always heightens the solemnity for me.

Our prayer for this church:
Dear Lord, we hope You continue to open the eyes of this church to who You are and lead them to where You need them to be. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Hope Assembly of God

Today we worshiped at Hope Assembly of God, 3008 Cleveland Avenue, Aliquippa, PA 15001, 724.378.7864, www.thehopepage.com, Janet Giles, Pastor.

Scripture: 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:

Sometimes I have an inkling that it is to be a special day in worship and today it proved true. Many churches have newspaper ads at Christmas and Easter and we thought we were choosing this church on the basis of their start time. Today’s was an extended prayer and healing worship service.

We were warmly welcomed by most of the church and the restroom locations were pointed out. A number of people commented on my Semper Fi shirt and someone thanked me for my service.

There was a cross on the wall, on the clear acrylic lectern, and the glass block window had crosses in tinted block.

The previous pastor died after an extended battle with cancer and I think God used that to develop the healing prayer ministry here.

Most of the music in this small church was borderline too loud for me but it did soften a bit with a long duet.

The message was based on some healing Scriptures, in particular Luke 8:40-56 about Christ’s traveling to heal Jairus’ daughter and the woman touching the fringe of Jesus’ cloak and being healed from a 12-year bleeding issue. Christ was clear that her faith was why she was healed. When Christ gets to Jarius’ house it is too late for conventional healing but perfect for a God lesson. Jesus gave them back their daughter who was dead.

The powerful message brought back some painful memories of when our son was killed. God had used me in some miraculous healings, and seeing my son’s body I knew that I had Christ’s power in me to raise our son whole and healthy. I knew it to the very core of my being and I know it now.

But I knew God didn’t want me to pray for that healing (I tried anyhow). It is seldom that I feel that call to heal anymore, but today felt the need to pray for a baby with some serious medical issues. We were privileged to lay on hands and pray for this child.

The pastor was right on track when she said God is not restricted in how He accomplishes healing and touch is important, but it may be the surgeon’s God-given skill that brings healing.


Jan’s thoughts:

A gentleman greeter noticed visitors approaching the door and held the door open for us while greeting us and handing us a welcome folder as we entered the building. We were warmly greeted by more folks before worship began, and the welcoming continued even afterward.

The pretty sanctuary is decorated simply with two large TV screens in the front and a purple-draped cross with a crown of thorns on the side wall.

The words to the music were large enough to be seen from the (almost) back row where we sat and the sound system was more than ample.

Each glass block window displayed a cross created with pink-colored glass block.

The pastor announced that this would be a healing service, then proceeded into the sermon during which she stressed that God gives medical science their abilities and knowledge and that He works differently for each person. We are to believe, pray, and step forward in faith. It was obvious that the power of prayer is held in high esteem and accessed constantly.

When the pastor gave the word, the Prayer Team (each wearing her shawl) joined the pastor and anyone desiring laying on of hands and prayer came forward starting with a mother and her less-than-1-year-old. The prayer mantle was placed on the baby and prayers were prayed, followed by many other members of the congregation.

As parents who have lost a child, this message was hard to hear, but even more odd to me was the fact that for the last couple of days I’ve been speaking with God in my devotional time about prayer. This is something I struggle with because I prayed often for safe passage for our son who was killed in an automobile accident. I’ve come to realize that God promises to always hear our prayers and always answer them, but He does not promise that the answer will always be “yes.” We interpret His “yes” as an indication of prayers heard and answered and we mention how good God is. We hear His “no” as proof that He somehow missed our request and seldom talk about His goodness at these times.

I believe God hears and answers our prayers, but experience has taught me that the answers are not always what we hope for. I know our son is entirely whole, healed, and happy beyond measure, and I’m just as certain that when I see him again I’ll never again have to say goodbye. In the meantime – for the rest of my life – I must take it on faith that God’s sovereign decision was best. I believe it…I just don’t always feel it, and I suppose that’s the essence of faith – believing without seeing.

Our prayer for this church:
Holy Lord, we pray You continue to encourage this congregation in their prayer and healing ministry. May Your Name be always on their lips. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

North Branch Church

Today we worshiped at North Branch Church, 139 North Branch Road, Monaca, PA 15061, 724.774.0711, www.Got-Hope.com, Pastor Andrew Beery.

Scripture: Matthew 28:18-20 –
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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.”

Bob’s thoughts:

I believe our last visit was somewhat accidental but proved to be a divinely-orchestrated and fulfilling worship experience. God led us by this church on Saturday and planted the seed for a return visit.

I had my doubts when we were greeted by only one woman; I was being tempted to judge the church, but my fears were put to rest when I heard the sermon.

The chancel boasts a great wooden cross with brass insert and some delightful banners, one in particular with a 3-dimensional effect.

Communion was served early in the service: the elements were offered vocally by not only the pastor but also the elders, words of intinction were spoken not read, and the pastor was served.

From the number of updates given, the church folk seem to be involved in a number of activities.

I had the feeling that contemporary worship music might be new to this congregation as there was little enthusiasm. I thought when they got to the final hymn there might be some passion for “Open the Eyes of My Heart, Lord” which I find hard to sing without passion, but little changed.

The sermon was the first of a planned five-week series, today’s being “Power Tools: Understanding of Purpose.” I was concerned when there was no Scripture reading, but it was referenced throughout the message. The heart of the series is that we are called to be disciples for Christ, not any of the things we would rather be. We strive for comfort and that is not where Christ calls us. The reality is we should have great comfort in being disciples. Jesus is the greatest thing to happen to us, why are we hesitant to share the Good News?

The congregation was invited to stand for a covenant prayer to be disciples, and we will be praying for them.

At the end of the service the pastor made his way through the entire congregation to greet each worshiper. We got to spend a few minutes with the pastor after the service and confirmed my thoughts: this church has experienced spiritual warfare and Christ is blessing them as they move forward.

Jan’s thoughts:

We first visited this church several years ago. The entryway has a friendly feel to it with a sort of living room arrangement on the right, coffee on the left, and a large table in the center sporting juice boxes and snacks. With lots of people milling about, greeting each other with smiles, hugs, and friendly kisses, I thought someone might recognize us as visitors. We were greeted warmly by a woman in our pew.

In the sanctuary, the buttery shade of the walls brought out similar shades in the stained glass, and the large cross in front was flanked by two projection screens which are used to full advantage although I wished the words were a bit larger and easier to read from the back.

The service began with a parody video by Tim Hawkins called “Cletus, Take the Reel” (you can view it on YouTube), and numerous members participated in the time for announcements.

Communion was served by intinction early in the service, and surprisingly the elements were offered verbally. That significant touch seems to be going by the wayside in most churches, so the sacrament was made even more special.

Today the series “Power Tools” began with the first installment, “Understanding of Purpose.” I felt like I was witnessing a family being told how things needed to change, and I suppose that’s pretty much what was happening. The pastor preached a courageous message that recognized the Great Commission as Christ’s statement of the purpose of His Church and identified Luke 9 and 10 as the path.

He stated that in efforts to attract new members most failing churches follow the path of inviting friends, relatives, and neighbors. (Personally I would add they also start new programs.) However Luke 9 and 10 identify Christ’s way of making disciples (which is, after all, His goal, and if you make disciples, both the church and the Church cannot help but grow). Christ’s method involves: 1 – teach a few to reach out to the world; 2 – have those few mentor others; and 3 – take the message to everyone.

He had the congregation stand and join in prayer to commit to making the changes necessary to get the church headed in a better direction.

I am convinced that if the congregation is willing to go along with their pastor and follow the path God has identified, they will be astounded at what God will do. Without exception, every time we honor His Son by our obedience, He blesses immeasurably beyond what we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).

I am so excited for the future of this church! They will be in my prayers.

Our prayer for this church:
Dear Lord, we ask for Your continued encouragement for this church as they strive to do Your will. Help them to be true disciples for Christ. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.