Sunday, October 27, 2013

Park United Presbyterian Church

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

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

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

“Caesar’s,” they replied.

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

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

 
Bob’s thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
Jan’s thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 20, 2013

College Hill Reformed Presbterian Church

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

 
Scripture – Luke 5:1-11 (ESV)

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

 
Bob’s thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
Jan’s thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Crossroads Church

Today we worshiped at Crossroads Church, 709 Thomson Park Drive, Cranberry Twp., PA 16066, 412.494.9999, www.crossroadsumc.org, Pastor Mike Arnold.

 
Scripture – John 14:1-7
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

 
Bob’s thoughts:

Sometimes, like today, it is very clear why we are led to a particular church. We visited here a few years ago (before we began blogging) and my strongest memory was how good the coffee was and how we were welcomed. With the welcoming presence today was something unusual: a man named Bob remembered me because he recalled my truck.

It brought back memories of serving as a visitor greeter and being very bad at remembering names, but I made notes about things I learned about our visitors. They were things I could talk about when I saw them again, and when they returned and I commented, there was never a question about whether I remembered their name when I could comment on something personal.

There is a large wooden cross, acoustic panels on the walls, and a good age mix of worshipers.

The sermon was delivered via video by Don Piper. His book “90 Minutes in Heaven” was one of the books that helped when our son was killed. Don said he wrote the book so he wouldn’t have to talk about it, and here he is talking about his experience. He said your testimony might be just what someone needs to hear.

He reassured the congregation that God still performs miracles…and he is one.

Some time ago we felt called to write a book about how we lost our younger son and maybe that is the testimony that someone needs to hear. I liked that he referred to the death of a believer as a “temporary separation.”

There was a backup singer whose lovely voice blended perfectly with the lead singer, a very nice addition.

We were blessed by numerous good conversations after the service.

 
Jan’s thoughts:

Today’s visit was a personal one for us. I would ascribe events from this past week to coincidence if I believed in it, but I do not, so I interpreted those events as God’s guidance. I’m glad I did…we were truly blessed by this visit.

I learned that Don Piper, the author of “90 Minutes in Heaven,” was scheduled to speak at this church this weekend. Bob had read the entire book, I was only able to read part of it, but I truly wanted to hear what he had to say.

We arrived very early and were greeted by many folks before, during, and after the service. The coffee area was well stocked and part of the area was devoted to a café. The walls in this section were decorated with posters from some of the sermon series; they made me want to listen to some of them online. It felt welcoming, just like the atmosphere.

The restrooms were down one hallway, and the signage for them was outstanding… literally… signs bearing arrows, hanging from the ceiling and pointing in the direction of the room. However I could only see them if I was looking down that hallway as there was no directional signage elsewhere.

The sanctuary chairs were comfortable and we could see just fine from the very back row, which changed when more chairs were added behind us to accommodate additional worshipers as they arrived.

We were prepared for music requiring earplugs, but didn’t need them after all. The music was contemporary and well done.

Don Piper spoke from the church’s North Fayette campus and was videocast (not sure if that’s a word, but it accurately describes what was accomplished) to the Bridgeville, East Liberty, and Cranberry campuses.

He detailed the accident 25 years ago that led to his death including pictures of the unbelievable condition of his vehicle, photos which left no doubt about the accuracy of the label “miracle.” He told how a single pastor prayed for him (at God’s direction), and the request for prayer spread like wildfire across the country. Because of these facts he believes in two things: the power of prayer and that God still performs miracles because, as he pointed out, he is one.

He was also quick to declare that he is a survivor but his wife is an overcomer.

He gave details about his time in heaven, and made several interesting observations about people he saw in his brief time there. He noted that everyone he saw was someone he had known on earth, someone who had helped him on his faith journey, and who was ready to go, i.e., a believer. He asked those watching to think about who will greet us when we arrive, but even more so, whom will we greet? Who will we have helped get to heaven during our life? He reminded that that is why we are still here, to help others get to heaven. His question: “What do you have to show for your time here?”

He said people often ask if their loved ones in heaven miss them. He said, “In heaven they don’t miss you, they expect you. They’re waiting for you, and you won’t be able to sneak in. They know when you’re coming.”

The bottom line of his message was that “Jesus went to prepare the place, and we must be prepared to go there.”

Toward the beginning he told about a woman who asked him to sign a rather worn copy of his book. He signed, saying nothing about the condition of the book, after which the woman explained that the book belonged to her late daughter who was a believer. Following her daughter’s death the book was given to her and, after reading it, she accepted Jesus into her heart. I only heard the first part of what he said to her: “I’m sorry for your temporary separation.”

As I said, this was a personal visit, and as the mother of a son from whom I am temporarily separated, I was bowled over. These words perfectly express how I feel when I think about my son, about the time since I last saw him, and how I feel about waiting to be reunited with him. I thank God daily that the separation is temporary, that my son is perfectly whole and healthy, never lonely or afraid. In Christ I fully trust that the separation is indeed temporary, and my heart overflows with gratitude.

 
Our prayer for this church:
Father, we pray this church will feel the call to offer their testimonies that You might be glorified. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Saint Andrews United Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Saint Andrews United Presbyterian Church, 201 E. Jefferson Street, Butler, PA 16001, 724.287.4777, www.standrewsupc.org, Rev. Merry Meloy, Pastor.

 
Scripture – Matthew 13:31-33, 44-50

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”

He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about sixty pounds of flour until it worked all through the dough.”

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.

“Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

 
Bob’s thoughts:

The first Sunday of each month part of the offering at this church is designated for Malawi mission, so, thinking they might have some music from Malawi, we were looking forward to an uplifting worship.

Even singing the American words, I didn’t think anyone could get through “Siyahamba” without passion. I have memory of this church being more upbeat.

We were greeted by a few people. I wish the personal confession time was longer.

I found it impressive that Malawi is about the size of Pennsylvania but has more Presbyterians than the whole USA and one pastor per 5,000 worshipers.

The sermon, “Like a Mustard Seed,” dealt with how God can use ordinary people for extraordinary things.

 
Jan’s thoughts:

We previously visited here almost exactly two years ago, and since this church supports missions in Malawi, World Communion Sunday seemed a good time for a return visit.

We arrived very early with plenty of time to look around, but there was little to look at so we ended up sitting in the sanctuary for about ½ hour. At least we had time to peruse the bulletin.

Using international songs for each musical portion in the service was imaginative. I was a bit disappointed that only the English words were used for “Siyahamba” (“We Are Marching”), as I was looking forward to singing the African words. Still, that song always brings back wonderful memories for me.

The point of the sermon, “Like a Mustard Seed,” was that “God uses the ordinary people of the world to do extraordinary things; our job is to keep sowing the seeds and trust God to give the growth.”

 
Our prayer for this church:
Dear Lord, we pray You call this congregation to sow the seeds of faith that You might cause great growth. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.