Sunday, March 30, 2014
Today we worshiped at Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church, 3916 Bakerstown Road, Gibsonia, PA 15044, 724.449.6363, www.gracerp.org, Pastor Jeffrey A. Stivason.
"In the third month after the sons of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. When they set out from Rephidim, they came to the wilderness of Sinai and camped in the wilderness; and there Israel camped in front of the mountain. Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, "Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel: 'You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings, and brought you to Myself. Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel."
So Moses came and called the elders of the people, and set before them all these words which the Lord had commanded him. All the people answered together and said, "All that the Lord has spoken we will do!" And Moses brought back the words of the people to the Lord. The Lord said to Moses, "Behold, I will come to you in a thick cloud, so that the people may hear when I speak with you and may also believe in you forever." Then Moses told the words of the people to the Lord.
The Lord also said to Moses, "Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their garments; and let them be ready for the third day, for on the third day the Lord will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, 'Beware that you do not go up on the mountain or touch the border of it; whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. No hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned or shot through; whether beast or man, he shall not live.' When the ram's horn sounds a long blast, they shall come up to the mountain." So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and consecrated the people, and they washed their garments. He said to the people, "Be ready for the third day; do not go near a woman."
So it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain.
Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked violently. When the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and God answered him with thunder. The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain; and the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. Then the Lord spoke to Moses, "Go down, warn the people, so that they do not break through to the Lord to gaze, and many of them perish. Also let the priests who come near to the Lord consecrate themselves, or else the Lord will break out against them." Moses said to the Lord, "The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai, for You warned us, saying, 'Set bounds about the mountain and consecrate it.'" Then the Lord said to him, "Go down and come up again, you and Aaron with you; but do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to the Lord, or He will break forth upon them." So Moses went down to the people and told them."
"For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word be spoken to them. For they could not bear the command, "I f even a beast touches the mountain, it will be stoned." And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, "I am full of fear and trembling." But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel."
We did not have much time before the service but a number of people welcomed us. I realized that some only smiled, but that spoke volumes in making us feel at home.
I thought it odd that I couldn’t find a cross, but I used the cross in the window frame for a focus.
When the children’s message was given, there were some questions for the parents to ask later…a good way to keep the children listening and get the parents involved.
I thought the premise for the sermon was a good one but I got confused with the restating; wish I could regain my focus.
I observed a healthy age mix with a lot of young people. Also got to meet some people after the service and noticed a good number came back to the sanctuary for Sunday School.
It is so pleasant to be greeted upon entering the building and exchange smiles and “Good morning!” wishes as we located the sanctuary and found seats.
The sanctuary was plain except for several large plants toward the front. The music was produced entirely by human voices, and it was awesome to hear.
As the opening announcements ended and the service moved toward worship I was pleased to hear the worship leader express the wish “May God be blessed.” It’s all too easy to forget that is the purpose of our presence, not whatever we might get from our time spent in worship.
The sanctuary was nearly full and an impressive mix of ages was represented. The Children’s Message was an opportunity to introduce the youth to the sermon subject, which I found helpful.
The sermon was entitled “Sinai or Zion: To Which Have You Come?” Sinai and Zion represented the God of the Old and New Testaments, respectively. The pastor spoke of Marcion, who, around 144 A.D., taught that the God of the Old Testament could not be the same God about whom Jesus taught in the New Testament because Marcion believed Christianity was inconsistent with Judaism.
I want to be clear that the pastor was not advocating this heresy, but quite honestly, this sermon was a little out of my league.
After the service, as we went to leave the sanctuary via another door, I had a very enjoyable conversation with a former co-worker.
Our prayer for this church:
Father, we pray You continue to guide this congregation and make them aware of where You are leading. Amen.
Sunday, March 23, 2014
Today we worshiped at home.
Some medical problems kept us home today so we listened to sermons online.
It is an odd feeling sometimes to listen in at home, even if you know the pastor and/or church. Sometimes I feel very much a part of the service, almost as connected as if physically present, but other times it almost feels like we’re eavesdropping.
Perhaps that’s how it is with our blog. Is it possible to feel connected at some churches? Do we ever convey how good it feels to be genuinely welcomed into a congregation?
Lord, help us all to extend a warm and sincere welcome to our brothers and sisters and to share Your love. Amen.
Sunday, March 16, 2014
Today we worshiped at Sharon Community Presbyterian Church, 522 Carnot Road, Moon Twp., PA 15108, 412.264.7400, www.sharonpc.com, Rev. Roger P. Howard.
Scripture – Ezekiel 18:1-32
The word of the Lord came to me: “What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel:
“ ‘The parents eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? “
As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. For everyone belongs to me, the parent as well as the child—both alike belong to me. The one who sins is the one who will die.
“Suppose there is a righteous man who does what is just and right. He does not eat at the mountain shrines or look to the idols of Israel. He does not defile his neighbor’s wife or have sexual relations with a woman during her period. He does not oppress anyone, but returns what he took in pledge for a loan. He does not commit robbery but gives his food to the hungry and provides clothing for the naked. He does not lend to them at interest or take a profit from them. He withholds his hand from doing wrong and judges fairly between two parties. He follows my decrees and faithfully keeps my laws. That man is righteous; he will surely live, declares the Sovereign Lord.
“Suppose he has a violent son, who sheds blood or does any of these other things (though the father has done none of them):
“He eats at the mountain shrines. He defiles his neighbor’s wife. He oppresses the poor and needy. He commits robbery. He does not return what he took in pledge. He looks to the idols. He does detestable things. He lends at interest and takes a profit.
Will such a man live? He will not! Because he has done all these detestable things, he is to be put to death; his blood will be on his own head.
“But suppose this son has a son who sees all the sins his father commits, and though he sees them, he does not do such things:
“He does not eat at the mountain shrines or look to the idols of Israel. He does not defile his neighbor’s wife. He does not oppress anyone or require a pledge for a loan. He does not commit robbery but gives his food to the hungry and provides clothing for the naked. He withholds his hand from mistreating the poor and takes no interest or profit from them. He keeps my laws and follows my decrees.
He will not die for his father’s sin; he will surely live. But his father will die for his own sin, because he practiced extortion, robbed his brother and did what was wrong among his people.
“Yet you ask, ‘Why does the son not share the guilt of his father?’ Since the son has done what is just and right and has been careful to keep all my decrees, he will surely live. The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them.
“But if a wicked person turns away from all the sins they have committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, that person will surely live; they will not die. None of the offenses they have committed will be remembered against them. Because of the righteous things they have done, they will live. Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?
“But if a righteous person turns from their righteousness and commits sin and does the same detestable things the wicked person does, will they live? None of the righteous things that person has done will be remembered. Because of the unfaithfulness they are guilty of and because of the sins they have committed, they will die.
“Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear, you Israelites: Is my way unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust? If a righteous person turns from their righteousness and commits sin, they will die for it; because of the sin they have committed they will die. But if a wicked person turns away from the wickedness they have committed and does what is just and right, they will save their life. Because they consider all the offenses they have committed and turn away from them, that person will surely live; they will not die. Yet the Israelites say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Are my ways unjust, people of Israel? Is it not your ways that are unjust?
“Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!"
I was glad to be led back to worship at Sharon Presbyterian Church. It is a pleasant sanctuary with a larger cross over grill work.
A welcome group stood at the door but they seemed to be waiting for us to make an overture.
There are two projection screens, however the one on the right was not readable.
The organ was so loud I couldn’t tell if my wife beside me was singing. Maybe it was because there were only a couple dozen in worship, but I was sorry I didn’t have earplugs.
The directional signage to the downstairs rest rooms was good; some of the other signage could only be seen from one direction.
The sermon could be summed up with the following quote: “God is not fair, thanks be to God.” We should all be grateful that we don’t get what we deserve but instead are granted His mercy.
It was announced that the pastor of 19 years had resigned. I am encouraged with the pastor’s plans; it will be a chance for rebirth for both him and the church. I hope we get to visit the church again and see how Christ is using them.
We last visited this church about 7 years ago and today chose to attend the 8:30 service. Unfortunately some recent changes had affected attendance at this service.
As we walked in the door the narthex was full of things on display with some signs that likely indicated their purpose but were a mystery to me.
One gentleman, whom I guessed to be the greeter, stood in the narthex just outside the door to the sanctuary and the two ushers stood just inside that doorway. We entered and stood looking around the narthex but it was left to us to initiate the greetings. Once inside the sanctuary several others said hello, including the pastor.
Ornate wrought iron nearly covers the rear wall of the chancel and the white ceiling is accented with delicate-looking chandeliers.
As usual we sat toward the rear, but today the organ and pipes were in the rear balcony, so once the music began we quickly realized we should have sat closer to the front. I could feel the bass, so I think my issue with the volume was more than just my personal issue. During hymns it was impossible to know if anyone else was singing.
During the Passing of the Peace everyone present sort of met in the center aisle where all exchanged greetings.
Both projection screens were visible from where we sat, but the one on the right was drowned in light so I used the other. However the black-and-white background graphic made it difficult to read the white words being projected. The timing was excellent.
In the sermon entitled “God Desires Life; and Responsibility,” the pastor emphasized God’s desire for everyone to live but that we should refer to our disobedience as sin, not character flaws or mistakes as our culture has taken to doing.
During the time of Joys and Concerns, the gentleman who was the liturgist announced that the session had accepted the resignation of the pastor and encouraged the congregation to show their appreciation to the pastor.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we are so grateful that You do not give us what we deserve. Thanks be to You for Your grace. Amen.
Sunday, March 9, 2014
Today we worshiped at Four Mile Church, 6078 Tuscarawas Road, Beaver, PA 15009, 724.495.6520, www.fourmile.org, Pastor Martin Williams.
Scripture – Philippians 3:10-4:1
I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.
All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained.
Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, dear friends!
I looked forward to revisiting Four Mile because I thought it an interesting group of buildings comprising the facility, and I remembered the large back-lit cross over the curtain.
We were greeted by the usher when we came in and a couple during the time of greeting, but they were the only ones.
The dual screens make it easy to follow the music. The bass was too strong for me but I had brought my earplugs. My knees gave out before I could stand very long to sing anyway. I enjoyed the female singer’s voice.
The sermon called us to live up to what we believe. I often talk about getting a few red bricks to the head before I hear God’s call so I appreciated the reference to a “Holy Spirit whack in the head.”
The message was likened to a stone that we put in our way that keeps us from acting on what we know to be true of God. We easily accept the first road block the devil offers us.
I found this message a wonderful call from Christ to get back to the things He has called me to. No excuses, He has rolled away my stone, no more detours. Marines are known for not backing from the fight, no more demonic stones to hold me back.
I was pleased that there were elders willing to be available for prayer after the service.
I recalled no details of our last visit here 4 years ago, but as we pulled into the parking lot I recalled the excellent outdoor directional signage. The building identifiers are helpful for visitors who have no idea of the purposes for the various buildings. The interior signs match and are just as abundant.
Upon entering we were greeted and handed a bulletin. We would have looked around downstairs but we did not want to intrude on whatever was going on. It turned out to be work for a worthy cause: preparations for an all-afternoon spaghetti luncheon fundraiser.
The building and grounds were tidy. The huge cross in front was suspended in front of a drape and backlit and the effect was stunning.
We found seats in the sanctuary in the very back next to the door. There were plenty of people back and forth, but no one spoke to us, which is typical at a church with more than one service.
The music was bass-heavy but well done.
The message was part 4 of a series about our responsibilities in our faith walk, this week specifically focusing on living up to and standing firm in what we believe. The pastor asserted that if someone were to try to steal our material possessions, we would fight to keep them, and we must fight to keep our spiritual blessings also. God has graciously given us all we need to live a God-honoring life, but the Enemy will do his best to take it from us and prevent us from living the life God has planned for us. We must reclaim whatever the Enemy has stolen from us…we must not give him an inch.
Scripture tells us the struggle is a constant one. The battle may belong to the Lord, but our part is important or God would not have instructed us about such mundane details as how to dress (Ephesians 6:10-17).
The congregation was invited to come to the front during the final song for individual prayers with elders, a wonderful and important ministry.
Our prayer for this church:
Dear Lord, help us all to roll away the stones we hold in place that keep us from boldly serving You. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Sunday, March 2, 2014
Today we worshiped at Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church, 399 State Street, Baden, PA 15005, 724.869.7635, www.lutheransonline.com/christoursaviors, Rev. Jill E. McGregor, Pastor.
Exodus 24:12-18 –
The Lord said to Moses, “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait there; and I will give you the tablets of stone, with the law and the commandment, which I have written for their instruction.” So Moses set out with his assistant Joshua, and Moses went up into the mountain of God. To the elders he had said, “Wait here for us, until we come to you again; for Aaron and Hur are with you; whoever has a dispute may go to them.”
Then Moses went up on the mountain, and the cloud covered the mountain. The glory of the Lord settled on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days; on the seventh day he called to Moses out of the cloud. Now the appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. Moses entered the cloud, and went up on the mountain. Moses was on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.
2 Peter 1:16-21 –
We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.
So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
Matthew 17:1-9 –
Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone.
As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”
We revisited Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church today in part because it is close and to see what has changed since the last time we worshiped here. The pastor is a joy to talk to; she has a passion for Christ that barely lets her touch the ground.
Some things that come to mind from a visitor not well versed in Lutheran liturgy: the service was nearly over before I realized the hymns were not among the printed ones included in the bulletin. (I didn’t see anyone using a hymnal until the last selection.)
Directional signs to the restrooms and nursery from the sanctuary would be helpful.
The renovations are being done as the money is raised for each project. I would normally recommend against this as it seems to leave no room for Christ, but what this has done is give everyone time to refine their thinking on each project. This is a most important part of renovating an older church as this time of acceptance helps the members take ownership and makes for a smooth transition.
This cold snowy morning seemed like a good time to visit with our Lutheran friends nearby.
This lovely church (by which I mean the people) has made noticeable attempts to reach out into the local community over the last few years, and I always enjoy their bold signs in the front lawn, visible reminders of God’s presence in the area.
Some interior changes have been made since our last visit, including painting. I don’t recall if there was signage the last time we were here, but there is some now, in spite of an obvious state of transition.
Before we could even sit down some folks stopped to welcome us.
As today is Transfiguration of the Lord Sunday, the untitled sermon centered on light. However the part that touched me was the pastor’s statement about the event on the Mount of Transfiguration.
When the disciples heard the voice of God telling them to listen to Jesus, they fell prostrate in fear. That was when Christ touched them. This was her point: Jesus touches the fearful…a simple and comforting thought, that when I am afraid, Jesus will comfort me and give me courage. I must listen for and to Him and depend on Him, but “the light will always prevail.”
The final three points included: we need to ask ourselves how we can listen better and where do our fears rule us, and then let Him touch us in those fear-filled places. Amen.
Our prayer for this church:
Father, we pray You open this church to all they can be for You. Empower them to go boldly forward in Your Name. Amen.