Sunday, August 25, 2013

Christian Community Church

Today we worshiped at Christian Community Church, 5719 North Montour Road, Gibsonia, PA 15044, 724.625.3230, www.cccofmars.org, Pastor Dan Turney.

Scripture

Isaiah 46:9-13

Remember the former things, those of long ago;

I am God, and there is no other;

I am God, and there is none like me.

I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come.

I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’

From the east I summon a bird of prey; from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose.

What I have said, that I will bring about; what I have planned, that I will do.

Listen to me, you stubborn-hearted, you who are now far from my righteousness.

I am bringing my righteousness near, it is not far away;

And my salvation will not be delayed.

I will grant salvation to Zion, my splendor to Israel.

Bob’s thoughts:

We were early and a number of people stopped to welcome us.

The building appeared to be a former school and the service held in what was probably a gym, so the acoustics were not good. For me the volume made it harder for me to hear or understand. I was disappointed to not see a cross except for one on a banner, then noticed three small crosses together above the coffee area.

The guest musicians were accomplished and enjoyable.

The pastor stated he had just returned from vacation and his message was on the sovereignty of God. The Biblical references quoted simply and directly state God’s supreme unrestricted authority and power as fact. The congregation seemed to show an active interest in the sermon which paused for some more songs. After a few more praise songs a different man finished the message. Deuteronomy 10:12-13 was quoted. The three points: that we will be drawn to worship, drawn to obey, and so God can comfort us.

We were in the last row and the heat was unbearable for me but I was surprised how much of a breeze I could feel when I moved my chair back about a foot.

We had another commitment and had to leave after 1½ hours, but while looking at the nursery had the pleasure of meeting the pastor’s wife. She was able to answer a long-standing question for me. I had noticed the church when it was on Route 228; the property was sold and a drug store built there, but I never found where the church went or even its name. I always thought God would lead us to it.

Jan’s thoughts:

The great signage at the road was extremely helpful and much appreciated.

The church leases the buildings that formerly housed the Richland Christian School, which sit on 55 idyllic acres.

We arrived early enough to look around, and after finding seats in the very back row we had a lovely conversation with some folks in front of us as well as several others who stopped to greet us.

This church seems to be involved in a wide array of internal and external missions.

For some reason I had not anticipated contemporary music at this church. That was enough of a surprise, but we could never have predicted the music we would hear today. We were privileged to be present for special music presented by Doug Ward and Shailen Abram. From the bulletin: “Doug has served with and led worship teams for the past 20 years having a passion for music, for the Lord and for young people. 15 year old Shailen is blind and has autism, as well as a remarkable musical gift. He has been playing the piano and singing since he was 18 months old.” The music was indeed special, and Shailen is amazingly gifted. I was grateful for God’s leading us here on this particular day.

The pastor announced that today’s topic was the sovereignty of God, which he defined as “supreme, unrestricted power with no termination of authority.” Verse by verse, he went through the Scripture for the day which states that God’s purposes span from ancient times to the completion of time, that His purpose will stand and He will do all He pleases. His plan will not be interrupted, confused, or destroyed, and His purpose is salvation. The pastor pointed out that Scripture does not try to prove God’s sovereignty; it simply states it as fact.

Following more special music, another gentleman took over preaching. He answered the question, “Why do the writers of Scripture tell us this?” He declared a three-fold purpose: 1 – so we will be drawn to worship; 2 – to motivate us to obey God; and 3 – so He can comfort us. He stated that if God was only sovereign, we would fear Him. But Scripture testifies to God’s love, out of which He acts with sovereignty. Because He acts out of love (Jeremiah 29:11), we can be confident that every event in our lives is for our good (Romans 8:28) and that He walks with us through everything we face.

Indeed He does…a fact on which I depend every moment and for which I am utterly grateful.

Our prayer for this church:
Father, we pray You continue to bless this little church. May they be a beacon on the hill for You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Rock Eternal Church

Today we worshiped at Rock Eternal Church, 2629 Ninth Avenue, Beaver Falls, PA 15010, 724.581.4481, Rev. Dorothy Clanton, Pastor.

Scripture

Genesis 29:31-35
When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless. Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben, for she said, “It is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.”

She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “Because the Lord heard that I am not loved, he gave me this one too.” So she named him Simeon.

Again she conceived, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “Now at last my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” So he was named Levi.

She conceived again, and when she gave birth to a son she said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” So she named him Judah. Then she stopped having children.

Bob’s thoughts:

We were early and when I saw where this church was I thought we might see some Geneva students there, maybe a youth rock & roll-style worship. No students back in school yet and more like a Southern Baptist format.

We joined a Sunday School class in session.  A highlight for me was when four children came into the sanctuary after their class ended and I got a great smile from each of them. The children went to the front and told the congregation what they had learned today…it was most enjoyable.

There was a cross displayed, and though there was little need for signage in this small church the sign on the inside of the men’s room identifying “gentlemen” did make me chuckle.

I understand some from the church do walk about prayer in Beaver Falls: a great community service.

The pastor had questioned early in her ministry why she should praise God and the answer came, because He died for her. Not many others would do that, and certainly reason to praise. She stressed that Christ inhabits our praise and talked of how we must go through a time to get us to this time.

God uses these low times to prepare us for what He has planned for us ahead. We are not ready without these experiences.

I was sitting in our backyard garden writing and reflecting how I sometimes feel lacking in worship. I was watching the goldfinches, canaries, and hummingbirds enjoying my flowers and was reminded of God’s blessings and realized that true worship, like praise, should happen always.

Jan’s thoughts:

We arrived early which means we entered the building and had the choice of interrupting the children’s Sunday School or the adult’s Sunday School. We chose the adult class, so we got to participate in the second half of the class.

The pastor stopped by and introduced herself and gave us each a hug; others were friendly but from a distance.

There was a lot of “giving a praise” via applause and innumerable “amens” and “hallelujahs” punctuated each sentence. The pastor said she was brought up in the Methodist church, but this service seemed much more like one from the Pentecostal tradition.

It was announced that the pastor and some others from the church conducted door-to-door prayer visits in the neighborhood last week.

The several children present participated in the service by singing and taking the offering.

The untitled message was introduced as being about praise, that we were created for the purpose of praising God, and that He inhabits the praises of His people. She stated that the enemy works to make it hard to praise God, but that he must flee at the name of Jesus.

The pastor used the story of Leah’s desire for her husband’s love to speak to the basic need for love in all of us. Following the birth of each of their first three sons, Leah was sure that Jacob would love her and become attached to her. By the time the fourth son was born, Leah must have realized that she would never get what she needed from Jacob and finally (“this time”) turned to God for the love she so earnestly sought. “This time,” instead of hoping for her husband’s love, she chose to praise God.

I find it truly ironic that it was that son, Judah, into whose tribe Jesus Christ was born. Perhaps the pastor is right and God does inhabit our praise, perhaps in more ways than we might ever think or imagine.

Our prayer for this church:
Father, we pray You will help this church continue to learn to praise and adore You always. May they minister to the students in the area, that they would both be blessed. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Grace Church of Harmony

Today we worshiped at Grace Church of Harmony, 538 Main Street, Harmony, PA 16037, 724.452.7270, www.gcoh.org, Peter Everett, Senior Pastor.

Scripture

Philippians 2:12-18 –
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed – not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence – continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.

Luke 12:22-34
Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

“Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you – you of little faith!  And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Bob’s thoughts:

We were early and the only person we saw upstairs said good morning in passing. When we were downstairs another woman said a cheery hello and, noticing my interest in the kitchen, stepped out to ask if we were visitors. She was quick to apologize for not having a greeter in the narthex and quite surprised when I said I might do the job. She made me feel like family.

We joined about 70-80 people for an 8 a.m. service. The sanctuary is pleasant, and while reading the announcements on the screen I wondered if the screen might be hiding a cross. When the service began I was pleased to see displayed on the screen a photo of the cross and the organ pipes it obscured.

The signage I saw was small and simple but effective.

Many songs were accompanied by a French horn, which was a real asset. The male soloist who played guitar during the offering sounded professional. I believe there were also two men playing guitars and two men and a woman singing vocals. I wish we could have heard the woman’s voice. The songs were good and sung with passion usually reserved for “Here I Am, Lord.”

The Youth Pastor read some of the Scripture and I liked the inflection in his voice.

It sounded like an instrument amplifier was left on during the message, which could detract. But I realized that the sermon seemed long to me because he was preaching to the choir: it was a message I completely agree with. I don’t remember to whom the line was credited, but it reminded me of relatives and friends I have known: “I have had a lot of trouble, most of which never happens.”

The pastor acknowledged he was preaching to himself, and me likewise. We know it to be true and can extoll it to others, but we fail miserably at living it. We are blessed that our Lord understands and forgives us.

Sometimes there is a word or two that really speaks to me and today it was “our stuff owns us.” Guilty and determined to do something about it. I will trust my personal security to GPS: God Personified in the Son.

Jan’s thoughts:

We arrived with plenty of time to look around this well laid out and cared for facility. As we toured we encountered several people who greeted us warmly. This is another church that, even with two services, recognized visitors.

From all indications, the signage is a work in progress, but there was enough to point us in the right direction.

Mission seems to be very high on the list for this church. Bulletin boards and other displays indicate support for numerous missionaries who looked to be international but I could find no indication of what location they were serving.

Ministry to the youth is another area of importance, proven by the presence of a friendly and well-spoken Youth Pastor.

The sanctuary is lovely, with white and off-white walls accentuated with varying shades of purple which brought out the colors of the stained glass and allowed the bit of bright red in the windows to really stand out.

The music was led by a director with a strong voice and provided by several talented people who, if they are not professional certainly could have been. Their sound was unique, and with a keyboard and two guitars, I think the unique sound I was hearing was the French horn, which added a lot. I appreciated the special music during the offering also…the soloist accompanied himself on the guitar and sounded a lot like a country singer whose name escapes me.

The message, “Fear Not, the Kingdom Is Yours,” was presented by Associate Pastor Eric Rodes and centered on the uselessness and, indeed, sinfulness of worry. He pointed out that worry drains our ability to get something done and it is Satan’s lie that it gets us somewhere.

He declared that what worry does do is cast doubt on God’s care; the world says you are poor if you lack certain things, but it is the one who has a lot and wants more who is poor, while the one who is content with less is rich. “Having” is not the problem; the issue is how you view what you have. The biblical perspective means you (1) hold it loosely, (2) use it for the Kingdom, and (3) be prepared to let go of it if/when God asks you to. Otherwise it owns us and prevents us from ministering freely to others because we see them as enemies.

God has recently been guiding me into considering the negative effects of worry and today’s message has given me further food for thought. It is so easy to buy into the world’s messages, but God’s messages are countercultural. The world says I should be thinner, richer, have a bigger house, a more expensive vehicle, take luxurious vacations; God reminds me He has already blessed me beyond anything I could have imagined and if I will simply be the person He made me to be and do what He placed me here to do, I will be happy because I am fulfilling His plan for me.

The idea of choosing to be happy with what God has provided is, I think, what Paul meant in Philippians 3:7 when he wrote, “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.” To choose not to worry about what we feel we’ve lost in this life and instead decide to be happy with what God has given us if for no other reason than because it comes from the hand of Christ, trusting His love and provision. I think I have come to believe that is the key to happiness and contentment.

Our prayer for this church:
Lord, help us all to rid our lives of the things that separate us from You. We pray for the grace to trust and obey. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

St. Thomas Church in the Fields

Today we worshiped at St. Thomas Church in the Fields, 4106 St. Thomas Drive, Gibsonia, PA 15044, 724.443.1963, www.StThomasChurchInTheFields.org, Rev. Ronald J. Baillie, Rector.

Scripture

Ecclesiastes 1:12-14; 2:18-23

I, the Teacher, was king over Israel in Jerusalem. I devoted myself to study and to explore by wisdom all that is done under heaven. What a heavy burden God has laid on men! I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind. I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the work into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless. So my heart began to despair over all my toilsome labor under the sun. For a man may do his work with wisdom, knowledge and skill, and then he must leave all he owns to someone who has not worked for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune.

What does a man get for all the toil and anxious striving with which he labors under the sun? All his days his work is pain and grief; even at night his mind does not rest. This too is meaningless.

Psalm 49:1-11

Hear this, all you peoples; hearken, all you who dwell in the world, you of high degree and low, rich and poor together.

My mouth shall speak of wisdom, and my heart shall meditate on understanding.

I will incline my ear to a proverb and set forth my riddle upon the harp.

Why should I be afraid in evil days, when the wickedness of those at my heels surrounds me,

The wickedness of those who put their trust in their goods, and boast of their great riches?

We can never ransom ourselves, or deliver to God the price of our life;

For the ransom of our life is so great, that we should never have enough to pay it,

In order to live for ever and ever, and never see the grave.

For we see that the wise die also; like the dull and stupid they perish and leave their wealth to those who come after them.

Their graves shall be their homes for ever, their dwelling places from generation to generation, though they call the lands after their own names.

Even though honored, they cannot live for ever; they are like the beasts that perish.

Colossians 3:12-17

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Luke 12:13-21

Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”

Bob’s thoughts:

Had the choice been mine I probably would have visited this church just for the unusual architecture: the w-shaped roof with hash windows down the sides and domed skylight at the peak. There is a great wooden cross suspended from the ceiling bearing a crowned Christ figure. The floor is exposed aggregate and the lectern and pulpit have cut out figures and symbols. The wall has some large wooden pieces with Christian symbols.

Another interesting architectural aspect was the ceiling treatment in the fellowship room. The dropped ceiling treatment ¾ up on the junior bar joist made for an appealing look and what must be an asset for decorating.

We were greeted right off by a woman setting up for music and someone from the kitchen, and then a longtime member came and offered us a tour and introduction.

The message was from Luke based on the Parable of the Rich Fool. He started by relating how Martin Luther was asked what he would do if he knew he would die tomorrow. Luther’s response was that he would plant a tree today.

He shared the concept that he who dies with the most toys, still dies. And my favorite, that the saved are already living forever so live without worry…a great spiritual message from the movie “Groundhog Day.” The time we waste hedging our bets could be spent wisely living for Christ.

With his concluding admonishment that we should plant a tree that will bear fruit for years to come, I felt drawn to a symbol of a Tree of Life from Genesis.

The pastor used inflection and emphasis in delivering his message and the congregation seemed to receive it well.

Jan’s thoughts:

Today we were accurate on the time and arrived with plenty of opportunity to look around. Those we encountered welcomed us warmly and one gentleman, who was well versed in the history of this church, generously made the time to give us a guided tour of the building. Numerous folks introduced themselves and kindly offered us coffee even before worship. Hospitality seems to be a gift of many in this church.

One of the most striking things about this facility is its architecture, from the dramatic presentation outside to the row of skylight windows at the top of the sanctuary ceiling. The signage was good.

The musical accompaniment was provided by two women on acoustic guitars who sounded excellent together.

All music was indicated in the bulletin as being from a songbook of somewhat more contemporary music and the bulletin included the words to each Scripture reading and all liturgies. Obviously this makes for a more detailed bulletin, but it also makes it much easier for the unfamiliar to follow.

The untitled sermon began with the question, “What would you do differently if you knew you would live forever?” The Rector suggested one might stop worrying, be more in the present as opposed to the past or the future, and we might opt to accumulate fewer things.

He pointed out that from the world’s perspective the Rich Fool in Jesus’ parable is to be admired for his planning and preparation, that he did everything right by worldly standards; but from an eternal perspective he was living for himself and for things and in the process he forfeited all else. He believed the false message that we can control our own lives, but we cannot be god of our lives and still live in faith in God.

He pointed out that as believers we are already living eternal life, and urged those hearing him to live in the light of this truth by leaving worry behind and giving up the desire for wealth and control. How we live now can change the fabric of eternity.

I appreciated one of his final questions: “Why do we insist on living starved in the midst of God’s abundance?”

After a mostly sleepless night last night, this message struck home for me. Why indeed do I forget that God provides abundantly and perfectly, that He remembers His children, and is for them. I always want to abandon my plans in favor of His…I just do not always do it as well as I would like. Perhaps this message will help me remember the Truth when I cannot sleep.

Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray this church did get Your message to live for You and boldly act in Your name. May we all know the peace from understanding that all our fears for tomorrow have already been met in You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.