Sunday, June 30, 2013

Trinity Community Church

Today we worshiped at Trinity Community Church, 118 Community College Drive, Monaca, PA 15061, 724.728.1125, www.trinityofcenter.com, Rev. Stephen Vesolich, Pastor.

Scripture

Genesis 3:7-13 –

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?”

He answered, “I heard you in the garden and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

The man said, “The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?”

The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

Bob’s thoughts:

We were warmly welcomed by the usher and people we met finding the restrooms, so it was somewhat a surprise to be ignored in the sanctuary before the service. A number of people said hello during the greeting time and after the service.

There is larger wooden cross and the lower ceiling gives the sanctuary a nice modern look beyond the HVAC and lighting savings. I thought it simply looked good. It does limit the visibility of the projection screen somewhat.

The first song was “As the Deer Pants,” our late son’s favorite hymn, but was followed by “Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble?”, so it was hard to remain sad with such an upbeat song. The music filled the first half hour and lasted longer than my legs, but with my voice it undoubtedly improved the sound of the congregation when I sat down. I appreciated being able to hear the female lead as I enjoyed her voice.

When the time came for prayer requests a number of children asked for prayers. The corporate prayer was led with a strong clear voice, making it easy for people to read along together. The same with the Scripture readings…there was feeling and inflection.

There were two cell phone calls and the pastor easily handled the interruptions. (I wondered how he would have handled mine, the Hallelujah Chorus. It once went off in a church meeting and of course I could not resist saying that I really had to take this call.)

I thought the assessment of gender differences was well done and I hope it makes the men and women think and appreciate their differences.

It was nice to find a Marine presence there and to hear Chuck Swindoll quoted. I was encouraged to see the church’s involvement with the Pittsburgh Project mission endeavor.

Jan’s thoughts:

The building looks like a converted house, and is well kept inside and out. The lower interior ceiling allows for air conditioning, which was truly appreciated today. The chairs were wide and comfortable, the sanctuary was decorated with some stunning banners, and a rough wooden cross adorned the chancel. This last would not be remarkable except that there was red paint on the cross where Jesus’ hands and feet would have been. I’ve never seen this before, and it made for a vivid reminder.

From the moment we entered we were greeted warmly with handshakes and even a hug.

During the Prayers of Intercession members of the congregation raised their hands to make a verbal prayer request. It spoke volumes (as well as bringing back fond memories) when several children in the congregation raised their hands and made requests.

The music was excellent, and for some reason I was surprised that it was contemporary instead of traditional.

The only downside to the lower ceiling is the lower projection screen, but only a small portion of the screen was affected from the far back where we sat and all the projected words were easily viewable.

During the Offertory a woman translated the words in American Sign Language as she stood next to the projection screen displaying the words. I thought this was helpful and effective.

The sermon, “The Problem Between Men & Women,” is part of the series called “Building a Healthy Marriage.”

It focused first on the four things Adam and Eve did when their sin was brought to light:
1 – they attempted to cover up their sin;

2 – they attempted to hide from God;

3 – they played the blame game; and

4 – their eyes were opened

He enumerated some of the major differences in the ways men and women are wired in their thinking and their approach to life, such as for women, things are connected, and for men they are compartmentalized and focused; women are concerned about the here and now, whereas men look at the long haul; women are physically weaker while men are physically stronger, and women lean more toward the emotional while men are more logical. Women’s brains operate holistically and have superior verbal abilities whereas men’s operate specifically and enjoy greater abstract reasoning. Women are relationship oriented while men enjoy being separate; she wants security, he is a risk-taker; she is trusting while he is suspicious.

He went on to affirm that these differences are designed by God, and we must recognize this, appreciate the differences, and use them to benefit the marriage, while making the daily choice to love unconditionally and sacrificially.

I liked the statement, “It’s not what I get but what I give, and it’s always my turn to give.” Come to think of it, I think that translates well into the rest of life also.

Our prayer for this church:
Heavenly Father, We pray for Your continued blessings on this church. We ask that You draw them out in love that they might bring their neighbors in to You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Park Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Park Presbyterian Church, 275 Commerce Street, Beaver, PA 15009, 724.775.2936, www.parkchurchbeaver.org, Rev. Mark Boyd, Pastor.

Scripture

Isaiah 65:1-9 –
“I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me; I was found by those who did not seek me. To a nation that did not call on my name, I said, ‘Here am I, here am I.’

All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations – a people who continually provoke me to my very face, offering sacrifices in gardens and burning incense on altars of brick; who sit among the graves and spend their nights keeping secret vigil; who eat the flesh of pigs, and whose pots hold broth of impure meat; who say, ‘Keep away; don’t come near me, for I am too sacred for you!’

Such people are smoke in my nostrils, a fire that keeps burning all day.

“See, it stands written before me: I will not keep silent but will pay back in full; I will pay it back into their laps – both your sins and the sins of your ancestors,” says the Lord.

“Because they burned sacrifices on the mountains and defied me on the hills, I will measure into their laps the full payment for their former deeds.”

This is what the Lord says:

“As when juice is still found in a cluster of grapes and people say, ‘Don’t destroy it, there is still a blessing in it,’ so will I do in behalf of my servants; I will not destroy them all. I will bring forth descendants from Jacob, and from Judah those who will possess my mountains; my chosen people will inherit them, and there will my servants live.

Luke 8:26-39
They sailed to the region of the Gerasenes, which is across the lake from Galilee.

When Jesus stepped ashore, he was met by a demon-possessed man from the town. For a long time this man had not worn clothes or lived in a house, but had lived in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried out and fell at his feet, shouting at the top of his voice, “What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, don’t torture me!” For Jesus had commanded the impure spirit to come out of the man. Many times it had seized him, and though he was chained hand and foot and kept under guard, he had broken his chains and had been driven by the demon into solitary places.

Jesus asked him, “What is your name?”

“Legion,” he replied, because many demons had gone into him.

And they begged Jesus repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss.

A large herd of pigs was feeding there on the hillside. The demons begged Jesus to let them go into the pigs, and he gave them permission. When the demons came out of the man, they went into the pigs, and the herd rushed down the steep back into the lake and was drowned.

When those tending the pigs saw what had happened, they ran off and reported this in the town and countryside, and the people went out to see what had happened. When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left.

The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.

Bob’s thoughts:

We were greeted and introduced to so many people when we walked in, it brought back memories of being the greeter. As heartwarming as that was, the very best greeting was outside the church: as we were getting out of my truck, the family parking in front of us – turned out to be the pastor’s family – a little girl about two years old gave me a genuine smile that warmed my heart for worship.

The chancel features a great wooden cross on the wall and beautiful stained glass in a big open sanctuary that was air conditioned. I never thought air conditioning would be a consideration for worship, but as it gets harder for me to breathe, it is appreciated.

The service is interspersed with Kyrie responses followed by some special music, a solo of “It Is Well With My Soul.” This piece is bittersweet for us but it was beautifully done. The organ was loud to me but sounded like it was played with some significant talent. I thought perhaps the volume was set for the choir.

I wondered if contemporary worship is being considered as it looks like the church is in a great location with a good building ready to bring worship to the community.

The sermon, “Devil’s Dance Floor,” was based on the story of Christ exorcising the legion of demons from the possessed man and letting them go into the swine. This man was from the margins of society, a lost cause. He did nothing to be saved…didn’t even ask.

This was my salvation story. I know many prayed for me but I didn’t even ask. Christ reached into the hole and pulled me out. I did nothing to secure my undeserved salvation; I was completely overwhelmed by His grace

That the pastor got an “amen” from this Presbyterian congregation is remarkable. I found it interesting that from where we sat the pastor’s stole aligned perfectly with the parament on the pulpit; I never saw that anywhere before.

Jan’s thoughts:

We visited this church about four years ago, during their interim period, and returned to hear the new pastor.

Since I am now wearing a boot on my broken foot, I find myself taking note of handicapped accessibility and was grateful Bob parked near the ramp entrance.

We were recognized as visitors from the moment we stepped inside and the members we encountered practiced exceptional hospitality.

The music was outstanding, especially the solo of “It Is Well With My Soul.”

The sermon was entitled “Devil’s Dance Floor.” The pastor explained the several possible origins of this expression but that it basically means a lost cause, which is what the demon-possessed man was considered. He had been segregated and written off into the margins of society.

Yet, through absolutely no effort of his own, he encountered Jesus and was freed and healed…a beautiful picture of what Jesus does for us when we come to Him and find salvation.

We tend to think we had something to do with being saved, but prior to coming to faith we too are helpless and hopeless, possessed by spirits from which we attempt to free ourselves. Sometimes others try to help, but barring an encounter with Christ, we have no hope.

Praise God that He sees us, knows precisely what we need, and saves us, because we cannot save ourselves no matter how much we think we can.

Our prayer for this church:
Dear Lord, we pray You will open the eyes of this church to the ministry they can have for You and give Your church life in the community. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Home

Today we worshiped at Home.

 
Bob’s thoughts:

We were wondering if we would make it to church today as we are the designated babysitters for our daughter who was due to deliver a few days ago. Then this morning Jan stepped out onto our porch and broke her foot somehow, so a portion of the day was spent at the hospital. Therefore I thought today might be an opportunity to express some thoughts without attaching them to a particular church.

We are always looking for ways to build up the Body of Christ. We work to voice our experience as first-time visitors. How we are welcomed or not is never intended to be a statement about us, but simply an example of how visitors were greeted at that particular church on that particular day.

Someone once greeted us in a different language; they apparently thought it an impressive way to make conversation with a visitor. At times this may be the only person a visitor talks to…would that be the impression you want them to have of your church?

Sometimes we are both given a visitor bag and one might be well supplied and the other has a worn out pencil, out of date literature, no pastor card, and the like. These are good things to do but you will likely see more response if it is consistent.

Members should take notice of those who might be carrying a visitor gift or even just looking lost. The value of personal contact cannot be overstated. A visitor may be suffering and in need and you may be the person God has put in that person’s path to speak to that need…or vice versa.

It is everyone’s job to greet visitors.

Is your visitor packet bulky? Could it be considered awkward to carry? Sometimes it is given only at the end of the service. Does it contain information a visitor might find helpful during the service such as the location of the restrooms, nursery, or cry room? You need to decide if it contains information that is useful during the service or a distraction during worship, like a mother with small children trying to protect a coffee cup.

We have occasionally needed help finding our way out of the larger complexes. I suggest you ask someone you know who is not a member to come visit, find their way around and hear them out how they were welcomed.

 
Jan’s thoughts:

I was moved to write the following one day after visiting a church. It was one of those days when I asked God about the purpose of that particular church:

We have visited some huge churches with ornate stained glass, where every detail was considered and resources available to accommodate every conceivable wish. We have worshiped in churches that could be called humble and plain and even all-but-forgotten, and occasionally one that makes me hope God will someday call us to become part of a congregation again.

And occasionally I find myself wondering how regular attendees are fed at a particular church…”why do they keep coming back here?”

That is when I hear the Spirit telling my heart, “Don’t judge what is not yours,” reminding me that God is equally delighted by the contemporary worship that originates from a stage, by the traditional worship from a chancel, and by a few people in a room that was half-demolished (or half rebuilt, I don’t recall which). The point was that it is not my place to conclude whether worship is indeed in “Spirit and in Truth” and a humbling reminder that all churches belong to Him.

 
Our prayer for the Church:
Dear Heavenly Father, We pray that all churches develop a welcoming presence. Help them to be attentive to the needs of strangers. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Carnegie Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Carnegie Presbyterian Church, 219 Ewing Road, Carnegie, PA 15106, 412.279.3223, www.carnegiepresby.org, Rev. Jeff Tindall, Pastor.

Scripture: Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.

And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”

But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.

And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

And the angel answered her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy – the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

Bob’s thoughts:

This church is one I have wanted to visit for a long time because my family was connected to one or both of the Carnegie churches that merged to form Carnegie Presbyterian Church.

They seemed to have weathered the inevitable storms of the merger very well and now are one church. Some items were used from each church in the new building, which has a bright airy feel. The round stained glass window and ornate wooden cross on the wall below add a great deal.

We were greeted at the door and enjoyed a more extensive conversation with a young man who turned out to be the pastor’s son. A few people asked me about or thanked me for my service.

The organ was strong during the introit but we were able to hear the choir for the rest of the service. There was one beautiful voice that could have carried over the organ.

The people responsible for the Sunday School program were recognized and some students were promoted. We got to see some of their handiwork after the service.

Since this was Youth Sunday we didn’t get to hear the pastor deliver a sermon. The young man who did the message is the Youth Director, son of friends of ours, and just graduated from seminary.

The message “Mission: Impossible?” has been a recurring theme for us of late. We are not sure just what He is calling us to do but we know it’s not impossible. The sermon was introduced as “Advent in June.” The Scripture was Mary learning that she would be mother to Jesus and her acceptance in faith of her call. Mary, no doubt, questioned how God could do this within her expectations.

I thought the song “Mary, Did You Know?” was hard to hear sung, but even to hear the beautiful words read is painful to someone who lost a son.

The church supports some of the ministries that are dear to us and we look forward to returning to hear the minister.

We had hoped to stay after to lay hands in prayer for a young woman from the congregation but she needed to go home.

Jan’s thoughts:

This church is a success story, the result of the merger of two churches whose buildings in Carnegie were in close proximity to each other. The congregations made the decision to merge and both buildings were sold. After a time the current property was purchased and this new building built.

Some congregational mergers seem to take place in name only, but all we observed was one big happy church family.

The large, attractive marquees at the bottom of the hill assured us we had the right place, and at the top of the hill we found three large wooden crosses at the entrance to the parking lot.

We arrived early and were engaged in conversation almost immediately. Members graciously took time to give us some history and details about the merger, the building, and the grounds.

It turns out we chose to visit on Youth Sunday, so we were blessed to experience several special events we would not have otherwise witnessed, namely the participation of much youth talent, the Promotion/Appreciation of the Sunday School, and a sermon from the Youth Director, Alex White.

The choir was inspiring; I particularly enjoyed the inclusion of the descant in “Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord God Almighty.” It was beautifully done.

An especially encouraging idea: a note in the bulletin indicating that anyone who has experienced an answered prayer should take a flower from the sanctuary entrance and place it in a vase in the front, thus reminding others that God answers prayers.

As mentioned, the sermon, “Mission: Impossible?” was presented by Alex White, the Youth Director at this church and, as of just over a week ago, a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. The message was a reminder of Mary’s incredible faith in submitting to God’s plan as presented by the angel Gabriel. It is easy for us to take it calmly…we know how the story ends. But Mary had no idea what she was in for; she was young, inexperienced, and unmarried, and she trusted God with all her heart.

I think Alex was right on when he pointed out that no woman is ever truly ready for motherhood, nor does she know what she is in for. (I know I didn’t. I was totally clueless.) But it is a process, a journey, and no one is ever really ready for God’s plan and Jesus is full of surprises. The important thing to God is our faith, and like Mary, we are called to carry Jesus out into the world.

I look forward to returning to CPC to experience the contemporary service.

Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray Your continued blessings on this church. When You call, may they answer as Mary: “May it be to me as You have said.” In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Community Presbyterian Church of Ben Avon

Today we worshiped at Community Presbyterian Church of Ben Avon, 7501 Church Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15202, 412.761.1233, www.cpcba.com, Rev. Dr. Donald R. Ewing, Interim Pastor.

Scripture:

Psalm 96 –
Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples.

For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and glory are in his sanctuary.

Ascribe to the Lord, all you families of nations, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering and come into his courts. Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth. Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns.” The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity.

Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it. Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them; let all the trees of the forest sing for joy. Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his faithfulness.

1 Kings 18:20, 21, 30-39 –
So Ahab sent word throughout all Israel and assembled the prophets on Mount Carmel. Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”

But the people said nothing.

Then Elijah said to all the people, “Come here to me.” They came to him, and he repaired the altar of the Lord, which had been torn down. Elijah took twelve stones, one for each of the tribes descended from Jacob, to whom the word of the Lord had come, saying, “Your name shall be Israel.” With the stones he built an altar in the name of the Lord, and he dug a trench around it large enough to hold two seahs of seed. He arranged the wood, cut the bull into pieces and laid it on the wood. Then he said to them, “Fill four large jars with water and pour it on the offering and on the wood.”

“Do it again,” he said, and they did it again.

“Do it a third time,” he ordered, and they did it the third time. The water ran down around the altar and even filled the trench.

At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”

Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.

When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord – he is God! The Lord – he is God!”

Luke 7:1-10 –
When Jesus had finished saying all this to the people who were listening, he entered Capernaum. There a centurion’s servant, whom his master valued highly, was sick and about to die. The centurion heard of Jesus and sent some elders of the Jews to him, asking him to come and heal his servant. When they came to Jesus, they pleaded earnestly with him, “This man deserves to have you do this, because he loves our nation and has built our synagogue.” So Jesus went with them.

He was not far from the house when the centurion sent friends to say to him: “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. That is why I did not even consider myself worthy to come to you. But say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed at him, and turning to the crowd following him, he said, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel.” Then the men who had been sent returned to the house and found the servant well.

Bob’s thoughts:

It is special to get an invite to return to a church just to enjoy worship. God knows when we need recharging and provides the opportunity.

It was a real treat to be greeted by not only those that we know but quite a few of the members, some who remembered our names. It is very welcoming to be greeted by so many in Christian love.

We were invited for the music program, which was simply great, but also witnessed ordination and partook of Communion. The amazing adult anthem was without instruments and needed none, and I also really enjoyed the children’s anthem, especially the enthusiasm of some of the children. Worship for me could easily have consisted of the music program, but there was so much more.

The sermon was based on some of my favorite passages of Scripture. The message started with reference to a commercial referring to the Most Interesting Man in the World. I got a kick out of not having a clue to whom he could be referring…I can’t remember the last time we watched TV or a commercial. I wonder if Christ-followers in the day thought of Him as the Most Interesting Man in the World.

It was stressed that we are in the faith business and that we need more “Wow! Look what God has done!” We are called to nurture that faith in others as we grow in faith.

The slate of Elders and Deacons seemed full. It is exciting to see good things like this going on as this church continues to heal.

Jan’s thoughts:

We were honored to be invited to worship at Ben Avon for the choir’s musical culmination of the season. The music was amazing, ranging from African American Spirituals to Mozart to Taize, along with the Junior Choir, which was a real joy to both hear and watch. We were blessed to witness the recognition of teachers and mentors, the ordination and installation of Elders and Deacons as well as to participate in the Sacrament of Communion. It was a full, rich, meaningful service of worship to our God.

Although we have friends here we were welcomed by some folks we did not know, and appreciated the time they took for conversation. Since we had arrived early we looked around the building; it was heartwarming to again meet a friend with whom I had traveled to Malawi as well as to see reminders of Ben Avon’s involvement in the Partnership between Pittsburgh Presbytery and the Synod of Blantyre, CCAP.

An interesting note: next Sunday will be this church’s sixth annual “Faith in Action Day.” Instead of meeting for worship in the morning, the congregation will serve in and with the community on a variety of service projects in order to reflect Christ’s love to others in the community. Everyone joins together at the close of the day for dinner, reflection, and evening vespers.

In the sermon, entitled “Surprising Faith,” the pastor spoke of Jesus’ unexpectedly finding faith in the centurion and pointed out that we sometimes find faith in some unexpected people. We have the obligation to display our faith openly and show hospitality, to demonstrate less doubt and more faith, in order to nurture faith wherever it may be.

I think this is a struggle for most believers, and I appreciated the encouragement.

Our prayer for this church:
Dear Lord, we pray You will continue to bless and guide this congregation. Continue to open their hearts to encourage and nurture the faith that grows around them. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.