Sunday, December 29, 2013

Allegheny Center Alliance Church

Today we worshiped at Allegheny Center Alliance Church, 250 East Ohio Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15212, 412.321.4333, www.acac.net, Pastor Rockwell Dillaman.

 
Scripture – John 5:2-17

Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie – the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”

But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’”

So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”

The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.

Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.

So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.”

 
Bob’s thoughts:

This church is spread over numerous buildings in an urban setting; we had looked forward to visiting for some time.

I was surprised not to find a cross somewhere although there may have been one projected on the wall. The large sanctuary was pleasantly and tastefully decorated.

With the number of people worshiping on a Sunday it is understandable that no one would recognize us as visitors.

I thought the musicians were talented. Also they must have a good business manager to keep this all together.

The sermon was based on the paralyzed man whom Christ healed at the Pool of Bethesda from the 5th chapter of John. The message was well developed and delivered.

One of the interesting points was the man didn’t search after Jesus to thank Him or even to see who He was. We are all a thankless lot, we focus on the gift and not the Giver, and we quickly forget how low we were.

God spoke to me through the message: I have not been near what I can be in Christ. This was a wake-up call to get back to where God was calling me.

 
Jan’s thoughts:

I am overjoyed we finally made it here. The size of this complex is surprising, and though we wandered around some I’m sure there was much we did not see.

In addition to a Saturday service, there are four services on Sundays. We arrived before the earliest service let out so were able to note the sanctuary was just about filled to capacity, and the same was true of the service we attended.

Naturally, with a congregation this size it is not possible to notice visitors, but those with whom we spoke were gracious and hospitable.

I know many churches have a counselor on staff, but this one has a Counseling Ministries Department.

The facility was beautifully decorated and the sanctuary especially was stunning with icicle lights all around, amazing lighting, and an impressive sound system that did not overwhelm even our sensitive ears.

Early in the service one of the pastors spoke some and lead a prayer during which all present were given a moment to ask God what He wanted to be different in our individual lives, then reminded that we need to trust and obey and to have faith in God, not faith in our faith.

The sermon, “Powerful Evidence,” explored the importance of gratitude and a personal relationship with Christ as both a basis for and evidence of our witness. A couple of points that caught my attention were: we cannot be powerful on our own, we need God’s Spirit to be powerful; the healed man in the Scripture, his focus was off…like the religious authorities, he was more concerned about the legalities of carrying a mat on the Sabbath than in knowing Jesus’ name or expressing gratitude for his healing.

He quoted A.W. Tozer that “God waits to be wanted,” and warned against being what Tozer called “nominal Christians” who warily watch God from a distance but refused to make a commitment to follow Him. He referred to those people as “God stalkers” and queried those present whether we wanted to know God or were content just to be God stalkers.

I was strongly affected by this worship service. The preacher spoke with passion about “our living, passionate God.” The third point in his sermon notes was, “He (the healed man) had been in that sad condition for so long that his will was as paralyzed as his body.” I know how it feels to be healed from a lack of expectation and hope, and this message made me realize I want and need to know the Healer more.

 
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray the world will see Your glory. May we always seek to be a beacon for You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Mill Creek United Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Mill Creek United Presbyterian Church of Hookstown, 5005 State Route 151, Hookstown, PA 15050, 724.573.1610 or 724.573.9579, www.millcreekworship.org, Rev. Nathan Weller, Pastor.

 
Scripture – Luke 2:8-20 (ESV)

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

 
Bob’s thoughts:

This church was on our list for a long time. We looked for it a few times; we did find it once but worship time had changed and God lead us elsewhere.

We found the restrooms and, I believe, the nursery – which had access to a good cry room, but directional signage could be helpful.

We were warmly welcomed at the door and I thought that might be the case inside. I gathered that people thought we were there for the baptism but it was still odd to be greeted by only a few. Even the forced hello’s during the Passing of the Peace were few. But once we were out of the sanctuary and down in fellowship hall, we were welcomed by many, providing a vastly different impression in the two areas.

The sanctuary is pleasant with a great wooden cross. I was impressed with the decorations, but not just the Christmas trimmings: the attention to d├ęcor was impressive throughout. The indirect lighting was appealing. I appreciated the comfortable pew cushions, attractive garland on the beams, and handsome banners.

We were pleased to witness a baptism and some beautiful young children.

I really enjoyed the young woman who played the piano and we always appreciate a good bell choir.

The sermon, “The Gospel of Luke: A Proud Papa,” raised a question I never thought of: when Jesus was born, did the relatives comment on who He looked like? I remember those times with our children, nieces, nephews, and grandchildren.

When my Dad was shown a new baby he always said the child looked like Fritzie Zivic (a boxer from Pittsburgh), and I frequently said the same. But when our children and grands were born, they were too beautiful. I still couldn’t tell you which features looked like whom, but they were beautiful children of God. God the Father doesn’t deal with any of this…He sends the message of Who Christ is.

Probably the best point was that even those whom Christ healed still died. I don’t know how many in the congregation got that.

I had difficulty hearing the pastor sometimes; it probably would require only a minor audio adjustment to dampen the echo.

I was pleased when the congregation was guided to pray for God to convict them of their sins that they might pray for forgiveness in preparation for Communion the coming week.

 
Jan’s thoughts:

We attempted to visit this church several times in the past but for various reasons we did not actually make it here for worship. Today, however, was a different story.

The narthex is on the larger side, and the decorations, both Christmas and everyday, are arranged by someone with an obvious talent. The facility is lovely and well cared for. Signage was plentiful, and not only the restrooms but also the stairs and other doors that visitors notice but are left to wonder about.

The gentleman who was acting as greeter took the time for conversation and extended an invitation to join the fellowship time downstairs following the service. After a brief self-guided tour we found seats in the sanctuary, and in the time before worship began several folks said hello on their way past; everyone looked very busy and preoccupied.

Hearing the bell choir was a treat, as well as witnessing a baptism.

The young woman playing the piano was quite good but the music seemed to lack any feeling from the choir or the congregation.

A wall in the front was appropriately used as a projection screen where some of the liturgy and music were displayed, and even from the very back the words were easy to read. During the Prayers and Concerns, those that were listed in the bulletin were also displayed.

The sermon, “The Gospel of Luke: A Proud Papa,” was an interesting spin on God as Jesus’ Father. Like an earthly father, He was proud of His Child and wanted everyone to admire Him.

There were several things that caught my ear as he referred our faith: we are to come and see, then go and tell; as you tell, you never know who might be listening in; how anxious the congregation is to see others join proves whether this is a church or a social club. I always admire a preacher who tells it like it is, and this is a vital point.

I thought the placement of the Passing of the Peace of Christ – following the benediction – was awkward, but it turned out to be excellent. Conversation often flows naturally at this point, and it led to our joining fellowship time. What I found fascinating was the difference in the level of friendliness…once we got downstairs the greetings were extended and there was great conversation. Very glad we stayed.

 
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray You would convict us all that we might prepare to partake of Communion, that we would prepare to meet You. We pray You will let us see our lives from Your perspective. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Real Life Christian Church

Today we worshiped at Real Life Christian Church, 233 Merchant Street, Ambridge, PA 15003, 724.252.6299, www.RealLife4You.com, Robert Hale, Pastor.

 
Scripture – I Corinthians 2:16
For,

“Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?”

But we have the mind of Christ.

 
Bob’s thoughts:

The church was toasty warm on a cold day, and to make the welcome warmer, I was also greeted by a Marine. The only cross I found was projected on the screen before the service.

During the announcements they talked about a free dinner for their neighbors on the 22nd. The food will be provided by Discovery Church in Cranberry and the only thing they would need is cookies. The plan is to pack some cookies in a bag with an invitation to attend worship here…a viable plan.

The pastor prayed insightfully for what he might say and for what the people might hear.

The sermon was part of a series on maybe lesser-thought-of “Gifts of Christ.” Past weeks were on direction and rest, today’s on perspective.

In 2 Kings 6:15-17, when the servant expressed his fear of the army surrounding them, Elisha asked God to open the servant’s eyes to God’s perspective of the legions of angels surrounding them. We need to also pray for God’s perspective on our lives.

We were once forced to move from a house that we had lived in for some time. I was convinced that God had a place for us already picked out and I was completely at ease with His plan. I wish I had done a better job of convincing my family, but God’s plan worked perfectly and the next move we made was a lot easier for everyone to trust God’s perspective on where we were to go.

[Note from Jan: During that time Bob lead by example, and he convinced me to adopt his perspective. The more I said “God has a place for us,” the more I was able to believe that, and I was ever grateful for his example to follow.]

A reminder was quoted that Jesus stated wherever your treasure is, there your heart is also. Pray to “Please let me see life from Your perspective.”

For a number of years I tended an ever-larger garden that rendered a lot of produce to donate to the local food bank. I had convinced myself that even though the endeavor was killing me, it was God’s calling. When I finally asked for God’s perspective, I got a much different plan…God’s not Bob’s.

 
Jan’s thoughts:

We are well familiar with the Center for Hope in Ambridge but did not realize the building they vacated is now occupied by this church. Since the group is small, today they met in an area reminiscent of a school but is easier to heat than a church on this cold day.

The congregation is small and extremely friendly; I believe every single other person present greeted us.

The bulletin looks festive and is extremely readable.

Much effort is going into a free spaghetti dinner for the community next Sunday, December 22. It will be held here in conjunction with Discovery Christian Church in Cranberry. (Call 724.252.6299 for further information and/or to support this very worthy endeavor!)

This message series is “Christmas Gifts!” and focuses on unusual gifts such as direction and rest, and now perspective.

The pastor affirmed that how we see something makes all the difference. He outlined three steps: ask for it (“and keep asking”), wait for it (“you learn to wait by waiting”), and go for it (“do what you can when you can, walking in faith”).

In the course of his message the pastor suggested that if we really want to know how God sees something, we should ask God to help us see life from His perspective. He warned that when this prayer is from the heart God will answer it, and when He does, our perspective will change drastically. It can also aid in unwrapping God’s gift of perspective and putting it to use.

 
Our prayer for this church:
Father, we pray for Your guidance as this church steps out in faith, going into the community seeking those who do not yet know they are seeking You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Christian Assembly Church

Today we worshiped at Christian Assembly Church, 6241 Tuscarawas Road, Industry, PA 15052, 724.643.8885, cafamily.net, Pastor Bill Anzevino.

 
Scripture - KJV

Ephesians 3:15-17

Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,

That he would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man;

That Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love…

John 3:16

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

 
Bob’s thoughts:

This was a larger facility than I expected with a sizeable parking area. We were welcomed at the door and then greeted in the narthex and directed toward the sanctuary.

I noticed no directional signage. I thought it might be too loud for me with 15 people on stage, but the volume was bearable. The sanctuary is larger with lots of decorations for Christmas, but no cross to be found.

I think the sermon was part of a series on the love of God. The pastor’s passion was evident and seemed to extend to the congregation. He quoted a great deal of Scripture to reinforce his message but with his passion I was surprised the sermon wasn’t shorter.

It made me smile that I was greeted by a Marine in the parking lot on the way out.

 
Jan’s thoughts:

Had we arrived earlier we would have wandered around looking at the elaborate decorations. Several people greeted us warmly including a gentleman who turned out to be a member of the staff, who introduced himself and pointed us toward the sanctuary.

The entire facility was superbly maintained and strikingly decorated for the Christmas season; signage was minimal though.

From our seats toward the back we could see all four projection displays, two on the front walls and displays on each side wall as well, which I’ve never seen before but in this size sanctuary, it makes a lot of sense.

The music seemed professional and the acoustics were excellent.

In the course of praying for two families who had lost loved ones the pastor referred to them as having encountered the storm of bereavement, which I thought was a fitting description.

The message was part two of the series “The Love of God” in which the pastor explored the depth, breadth, width, and height of God’s love for the world and for each individual in it.

 
Our prayer for this church:
Father, we pray this congregation continues to be receptive to the leading of the pastor and that You continue to lead the leaders. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Forest Hills Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Forest Hills Presbyterian Church, 1840 Ardmore Boulevard, Pittsburgh, PA 15221, 412.241.1647, www.fhpcpa.org, Rev. Ben Black, Pastor.

 
Scripture

Psalm 106:1-13

Praise the Lord.

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.

Who can proclaim the mighty acts of the Lord or fully declare his praise?

Blessed are those who act justly, who always do what is right.

Remember me, Lord, when you show favor to your people, come to my aid when you save them, that I may enjoy the prosperity of your chosen ones, that I may share in the joy of your nation and join your inheritance in giving praise.

We have sinned, even as our ancestors did; we have done wrong and acted wickedly.

When our ancestors were in Egypt, they gave no thought to your miracles; they did not remember your many kindnesses, and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea.

Yet he saved them for his name’s sake, to make his mighty power known.

He rebuked the Red Sea, and it dried up; he led them through the depths as through a desert.

He saved them from the hand of the foe; from the hand of the enemy he redeemed them.

The waters covered their adversaries; not one of them survived.

Then they believed his promises and sang his praise.

But they soon forgot what he had done and did not wait for his plan to unfold.

Colossians 1:11-16

(B)eing strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and giving joyful thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of his holy people in the kingdom of light. For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.

 
Bob’s thoughts:

This church enjoys a stately wooden cross accented by the peaked ceiling, and the colorful stained glass added drama.

The words for the songs and most Scripture passages were projected on the rear wall of the chancel. I appreciated seeing the words to the anthem: they were simple and easy to follow and understand, but it added power to see them in print. The solos were wonderful also.

We were almost welcomed during the Passing of the Peace of Christ; the exception was a vet who had occasion to land on Iwo Jima and distinctly appreciated Marines, especially the 6,000+ who gave their lives for that rock on which to land.

The sermon, “Thanksgiving in Advent,” dealt with giving thanks as we come to celebrate Advent. The message was personal to me from God.

My thanks to God come easy; He has blessed me overwhelmingly and I remember His intercession in my life. However I still struggle with showing gratitude to others for all the little everyday things in my life.

Saying thank you looks beyond oneself, and you cannot be too thankful.

To illustrate a point the pastor mentioned carrying two buckets of mud (mortar) on a job. It brought back memories of a job of mine when none of the teenage help showed up and two of us carried two buckets of concrete up two forty-foot ladders to place multiple yards of concrete.

I enjoyed the young girl who sang the offertory, “It’s About the Cross.” She had a great smile too.

Communion was served silently, and I noted the pastor was served by the elders. It was especially powerful after watching “The Bible,” including the crucifixion.

 
Jan’s thoughts:

Arriving with time to wander around gave us an opportunity to notice the ample signage: I was especially delighted by the useful restroom signs that jutted into the hallway. The facility is nicely decorated and well cared for. Coffee and treats in the narthex was a hospitable gesture to guests and members alike.

I had the feeling a few people would have liked to greet their visitors but all in all, few did.

The unique stained glass windows contain large images in bold colors and a large empty wall on the rear of the chancel makes a convenient PowerPoint screen.

It was a joy to participate in Communion, and I especially appreciated the Invitation liturgy. I loved that the words put some emotion into it. And the soft guitar music that was played while the elements were distributed added much.

The message, “Thanksgiving in Advent,” stressed the importance of remembering what God has done for us in the past and cultivating “a thankful approach to Christmas and to life.” He declared that our perception and thinking will be transformed if, instead of focusing on what we “need” or “deserve” we rejoice over our abundant blessings. Also that “thank you can never be overused in a relationship, including our relationship with God.”

I believe remembering what God has done in the past feeds our faith in Him for the future.

 
Our prayer for this church:
Heavenly Father, we pray for an awakening of thanksgiving in the hearts of all believers. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.