Sunday, May 26, 2013

First Presbyterian Church (Beaver)

Today we worshiped at First Presbyterian Church, 252 College Avenue, Beaver, PA 15009, 724.774.6398, www.fpcbeaver.com, Jeff Arnold, Senior Pastor.

Scripture: John 7:37-44

On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.

On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.”

Others said, “He is the Messiah.”

Still others asked, “How can the Messiah come from Galilee? Does not Scripture say that the Messiah will come from David’s descendants and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?”

Thus the people were divided because of Jesus. Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him.

Bob’s thoughts:

We were a little early for the service and were reminded again of the importance of signage. We found a door to the rear of the sanctuary and were about to enter when we realized it was the end of the earlier service, so we took the stair down to explore. We ended up in the choir area, through a storage space and kitchen and on to the newer-looking space that had signage. From the size of the facility some entry signage would have helped.

A woman next to Jan said hello and thanked me for my service. I thought no one spoke thinking we were from one of the other services, so I got us both visitor bags and we carried them around a bit, but nobody noticed.

With the sun shining in the window directly above us, a window shade would help the tech see the sound mix board.

There was mention that this was Memorial Day weekend and it was tied to the image of Biblical remembering the past for the present and future. The most powerful point from the message was that as Christ poured out the Living Water for you and me, we also pour out for those to whom we minister.

Jan’s thoughts:

As we approached the building I wondered, did we want door number 1, 2, 3, or 4? My first guess was not helpful (leading to a single door toward the front of the sanctuary). Door number 2 led to a similar spot but there were stairs, so we took a tour of the lower floor. In the course of conversation with a gentleman in the kitchen we learned that remodeling is scheduled to begin this this week in many areas of the building.

We appreciated the large maps that were posted in various locations showing the layout of all three floors. In a facility this size, it was very helpful.

The worship area was large, and by the time the service started there were few if any empty seats. The woman sitting next to me welcomed us and thanked Bob for his service.

The music was phenomenal, and sounded (to me, at least) good enough to be professional.

The sermon was called “Jesus: Seeing, Believing, Knowing God.” The pastor started out talking about the sacrificial leaf of the Mangrove plant and its obvious connection to Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf.

He then explained some of the details of the Feast of Tabernacles as it was celebrated in the Old Testament. If I have it right, on the 8th day of the Feast the priest took a pitcher of pure gold (representing Jesus Christ) and, walking under a shroud of palm branches, walked from the temple to the Pool of Siloam, filled the pitcher from the pool, returned to the temple, and poured the water (symbolizing the Holy Spirit) over the altar. He did this seven times, signifying the totality of God’s provision for His people.

It was on this the greatest day of the Feast that Jesus issued His invitation for “anyone who is thirsty,” (i.e., anyone – ANYONE – who wants to know God) to come to Him. The pastor emphasized several vital points involved in this transaction including that Christ’s promise is that Living Water will flow FROM you, not INTO you. The progression is: first we thirst, we go to Him, He fills us with the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit causes Living Water to flow from us thus nourishing others and giving us a life of purpose and meaning.

Can I just say how much I loved this sermon? I have often read the story of Jesus’ invitation to come to Him and be filled with Living Water, but knowing the Old Testament background and symbolism deepens the meaning so much more.

He also pointed out that when we are thirsty the human response is usually to try to treat it with one (or more) of the countless remedies offered by the world, but the only real cure is to take it to Jesus. Only He can fill the voids in our lives…we never could, we never will…the only solution is to come to Him just as we are.

Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray You encourage this church to continue to seek Your Living Water. Guide their mission efforts and lead them as a church to where You wish them to serve. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Ohio United Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Ohio United Presbyterian Church, 1236 Longvue Avenue, Aliquippa, PA 15001, 724.378, www.ohiopresbyterian.org, Rev. Eric Powell, Interim Pastor.

Scripture:

Joel 2:28-32
“And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and billows of smoke. The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved; for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there will be deliverance, as the Lord has said, even among the survivors whom the Lord calls.

Acts 2:1-13
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappodocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs – we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

Bob’s thoughts:

It is always interesting to me how one of us might remember a church we visited while the other has no memory of it. This is a lot of the reason we gave in to doing this blog.

I was hoping we would be led to a church that acknowledges Pentecost, and for a change we were not the only ones wearing red – even the sermon was based on the birth of the Church. It was nice to have more than just a casual mention of the event.

When the screen went up after the announcements, a large cross was revealed, so I was pleased. We arrived early and after a quick look around, we took seats in the sanctuary but no one noticed.

A highlight was a special music piece by the choir; not only did they sound good together but their passion and joy were evident. It was a great addition to the worship service. We also had the joy to witness new members joining church.

The sermon was about Pentecost and started with the condition of the eleven disciples. They had just come from this unbelievable high of seeing and breaking bread with the Risen Christ. To have had this time after witnessing His crucifixion must have been an incredible range of emotions, from the lowest of lows to the highest possible high.

It made me think of new Christians who are on fire with the Holy Spirit, and we are stagnated to the excitement when we should be allowing that fire to rekindle the spirit within us. Ashamedly, we live in one of the fertile mission fields. Our Malawian friends were quick to recognize this when they would visit and bring Christ with them.

If we witness and are mocked for Christ, we should count it as a blessing.

There were no instructions for Communion: the elements were passed silently and taken when received. This made me realize I miss the connection of partaking together. The pastor appeared to offer the bread and cup verbally.

There was a woman nearby with two young children whom I felt God was leading me to pray with and for, but she slipped away before I could ask. I did look downstairs even though we were not invited.

Jan’s thoughts:

We wanted to worship at a church that observes Pentecost so I searched for one that mentioned it on their website. It is surprising how few churches recognize this vital day in the life of our faith.

We last visited this church in May 2010 not long before their current interim pastor began his work here. It’s a pretty church, well kept, and very friendly with each other…only two people spoke to us though.

Little time was spent on announcements since they were displayed on the screen prior to the beginning of worship. The bulletin is full and informative and easy to use.

We were privileged to witness the confirmands taking their public vows, along with the stepdad of one of the confirmands. This brought back fond memories for me of when Bob and one of our daughters joined church together one Pentecost Sunday many years ago.

The volume of the choir took me by surprise as they sang a spirit-filled rendition of “Revive Us Again” with energy and enthusiasm.

The sermon, “The Coming of the Holy Spirit,” detailed the story of Pentecost from the prophecy of Joel to the event itself to the current spiritual lack in Western Europe and North America. He ended by asking those assembled, “How much do you want God in your life?” He declared that “Jesus gave Peter the keys to the Kingdom but we seem to have lost them,” and left his listeners with the admonition that they should “expect to be mocked for their faith, and when they are, to count it as a blessing.” Indeed, that is the promise.

Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray You do reignite the Holy Spirit in this church. Let them find You in their hearts and go forth praising You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Bible Chapel

Today we worshiped at The Bible Chapel in Robinson, (at Pittsburgh Technical Institute,) 1111 McKee Road, Oakdale, PA 15071, 724.941.8990, www.biblechapel.org, Mike McCormick, Campus Pastor.

Scripture: Exodus 3:9-4:15 (NIV)
“And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”

Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”

God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers – the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob – has sent me to you.’

“This is my name forever, the name you shall call me from generation to generation.

“Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers – the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – appeared to me and said: I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt. And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites – a land flowing with milk and honey.’

“The elders of Israel will listen to you. Then you and the elders are to go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. Let us take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God.’ But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them. After that, he will let you go.

“And I will make the Egyptians favorably disposed toward this people, so that when you leave you will not go empty-handed. Every woman is to ask her neighbor and any woman living in her house for articles of silver and gold and for clothing, which you will put on your sons and daughters. And so you will plunder the Egyptians.”

Moses answered, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’?”

Then the Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?”

“A staff,” he replied.

The Lord said, “Throw it on the ground.”

Moses threw it on the ground and it became a snake, and he ran from it. Then the Lord said to him, “Reach out your hand and take it by the tail.” So Moses reached out and took hold of the snake and it turned back into a staff in his hand. “This,” said the Lord, “is so that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers – the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob – has appeared to you.”

Then the Lord said, “Put your hand inside your cloak.” So Moses put his hand into his cloak, and when he took it out, the skin was leprous – it had become as white as snow.

“Now put it back into your cloak,” he said. So Moses put his hand back into his cloak, and when he took it out, it was restored, like the rest of his flesh.

Then the Lord said, “If they do not believe you or pay attention to the first sign, they may believe the second. But if they do not believe these two signs or listen to you, take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground. The water you take from the river will become blood on the ground.”

Moses said to the Lord, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”

The Lord said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”

But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.”

Then the Lord’s anger burned against Moses and he said, “What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and he will be glad to see you. You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do.”

Bob’s thoughts:

I clip any notice I see of churches in the general area and see if God leads us there.

The worship is held in a room at PTI, and although some additional signage would have been helpful, we followed traffic in; getting out was a little tricky.

We were welcomed by people who asked if we were visitors and first-time visitors. A woman guided us to seats and sat with us.

There was an exquisite wooden cross with a drape and crown of thorns in the front. I noticed a good age mix among the congregation and, like most contemporary services, a lot of people straggled in after the singing started. Efforts were quickly made to accommodate with extra chairs.

It was interesting that even a new song was sung with passion and I got through with no ear plugs although the bass almost overwhelmed me.

Just before it came time to play the streaming sermon, some of the power went out. The on-site pastor deftly handled things while the crew hurried to string extension cords.

The message was for Mother’s Day and dealt with the fear of inadequacy. He reiterated some of the traps moms are led into where they question their value and their God. I liked his comment that “on the few days that you are feeling good about yourself, your children will quickly remind you of your shortcomings.”

Another excerpt: “Even when you have your mom suit on” the pastor, like me, wonders if you will ever hear a story on a local Christian radio station that doesn’t work out? From personal experience I would say that sometimes when you place your child in God’s care, He takes him home. Not your choice, but a new normal begins.

One of the most encouraging things I heard today was from the pastor after the service, that the church, for now at least, is not burdened with a building so there is no confusion about what/who the real church is.


Jan’s thoughts:

I appreciated the signs leading toward the parking and entrance at the Pittsburgh Technical Institute, but would suggest directional signs to exit the building also since first time visitors can get lost easily.

In a church with several services – not to mention several campuses – I was surprised at the number of people who asked if we were visitors. We were greeted warmly almost from the time we arrived and candidly engaged in conversation before and after the service. As we entered the worship area we were invited to sit with some folks at the back wall, which was perfect for us with our hearing issues, and we truly appreciated the invitation as things like that are often not forthcoming.

As in most contemporary services, many folks arrived during the first song. I witnessed one group of several enter and a woman sitting in the back row immediately gathered her belongings and waved her hand to the new arrivals indicating they could sit there. Almost immediately 10-15 more people arrived but there simply were not enough seats by that time, so several male members jumped into action and quickly and efficiently set up enough seating for the new group. It’s always nice to have such an issue, but what tells the tale is how it’s handled, and this was handled very well.

The music was excellent although, as is almost always the case for me, on the loud side. I always marvel that it sounds so loud to me but everyone else seems to be handling it just fine… I know it’s my ears, and there is nothing I can do about it. I appreciated the words on the screen in yellow, making them very easy to read.

I caught a glimpse of a woman interpreting the service in sign language, which touched me as it reminded me of when our daughter used to do that.

The message series is entitled “Fear: What Are You Afraid Of?” and this week the focus was on the fear of inadequacy. He pointed out that this particular fear is epidemic among mothers: whether they stay at home to raise their children or they are employed outside the home, many moms feel just plain inadequate.

Moses believed 40 years prior to his call that he would be the one to deliver Israel out of slavery, but his first attempt was based on his own power so he failed. However the pastor pointed out that “yesterday’s failure is never an excuse for today’s calling.”

He examined fear of inadequacy as exhibited by Moses when God called him to deliver Israel out of Egypt and came to the following conclusions:

1 – Fear of inadequacy causes us to question our value, to ask “Who am I?” Since God agreed with Moses that he was inadequate for the task at hand, it seems that is the wrong question. Since God promised to be with Moses, the question to ask is, “Who is my God?”

2 – Fear of inadequacy is fueled by belief in an inadequate God. God is more than adequate; since He is with us, we cannot be inadequate for a task to which He has called us.

3 – Fear of inadequacy continually asks the question, “What will people think?” Fear of inadequacy causes parents to want to be their kid’s friend, facilitator, enabler, and taxi driver, but moms/parents sometimes make decisions that are unpopular with their kids as well as with their kid’s friend’s parents.

4 – Fear of inadequacy produces a feeling of incompetence. We feel weak but do not want to admit it so we blame God, our parents, or anyone else we can think of. But Scripture tells us that only when we confess our weakness to God and lean on Him are we (finally) strong.

5 – Fear of inadequacy will lead us to places of unhealthy disobedience. We reach the point where we have no choice but to admit to God, as Moses did, that we simply don’t want to do what He is asking of us. But God is not happy with disobedience, and our fear of inadequacy is addressed when we admit it.

He then had a message for the women of the church: we need to step it up…we are called to be more than we are; the “mature women can’t just slide for home,” we need to disciple younger women and help them learn what it means to be a woman of Christ; he instructed us to guard our hearts and tend to our marriages.

This was a powerful message that addressed a topic I’ve been focusing on for quite a while in my personal devotions. I believe fear is a favorite tactic of our true enemy, Satan, who will whisper fearful reminders of mistakes past, echoing messages of foreboding joy that steal our happiness. The next time I begin to feel the weight of this fear as the Enemy tries to use it against me, I pray I remember to confess and recall that Christ is always more than enough.

Our prayer for this church:
Dear Lord, we pray You quell the human “fears.” May the faith of this congregation grow that they will trust You completely. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Burry's Church / St. John's United Evangelical Protestant Church

Today we worshiped at Burry’s Church / St. John’s United Evangelical Protestant Church, 1835 Route 68, Rochester, PA 15074, 724.452.6941, www.burryschurch.org, Win Groseclose, Senior Pastor.

Scripture: Ephesians 6:14 (ESV)

Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness,…

Bob’s thoughts:

I wonder if we were being led elsewhere today since our 20 minute trip took an hour and we arrived a little late. I like to be early enough to give people the opportunity to say hello: it is hard to get a feel for the friendliness of a church without that time. After the service is over there may not be any greeting, like today.

I thought this was a small country church and was surprised by its size. It boasts great woodwork and stained glass with a lighted cross. One of the women who spoke to us was very knowledgeable about the church.

Contemporary worship must be new to this congregation…I was hard pressed to find anyone singing along with the enthusiastic leaders. I hope the church warms to this form of praise; I am always in awe of the passion in contemporary worship.

A highlight for me was in the pastor’s prayer as he asked God to work “through me or in spite of me.” A prayer for all of us, that God’s will be done in spite of our efforts.

The message dealt with the breastplate of righteousness, clarifying and defining Paul’s reference and the important part, that Paul is referring to Christ’s righteousness.

I did get to speak to one of the praise singers and hope I was able to encourage her. We found this church from a notice on a grief share group, but I had no occasion to talk to anyone about it.

Jan’s thoughts:

We arrived a little late thereby missing the opportunity to chat with anyone prior to worship. The ushers were attentive and helpful when we reached the sanctuary and pointed us toward vacant seats.

We did catch part of a presentation by a representative of Choices Pregnancy Services detailing their work and how to help them make a difference in the community.

The dark wood all around, including the decorative ceiling joists, set off the intricate stained glass beautifully.

Even from far back in this large sanctuary I was still able to read the words on the screen.

The contemporary music appeared to be a recent addition to the service judging by the lack of enthusiasm from the congregation. In all fairness though, I’ve been around contemporary Christian music for quite a while and both songs were new to me as well as being slow and quiet. I noticed congregational participation picked up when the traditional hymn began.

The bulletin is printed on a single 11x17 sheet of heavy stock and tri-folded. It’s amazing how much information can be incorporated, including the words to the contemporary songs and Scripture read throughout the service.

The sermon was entitled “A Mighty Breastplate” and continued the study of Paul’s language in reference to the armor of God in Ephesians 6:13-17.

Toward the end of the message he spoke of grace and pointed out that we cannot show grace unless we have received it…grace transforms us.

Since better writers than I have published books on the topic of grace (read “Grace: More Than We Deserve, Greater Than We Imagine” by Max Lucado and “Future Grace” by John Piper), let me just say that I could not agree more that our grace cup must first be filled before we can pour it out for others, and only God is capable of filling that cup to overflowing.

Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we lift this church up to You. We pray You will encourage their missional efforts and warm their hearts to any music that praises You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.