Sunday, April 27, 2014

Victory Family Church

Today we worshiped at Victory Family Church, 21150 Route 19, Cranberry Township, PA 16066, 724.453.6200, www.lifeatvictory.com, John Nuzzo, Senior Pastor.


Scripture

Genesis 2:18
The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

Ephesians 6:1-3
Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” – which is the first commandment with a promise – “so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.”

2 Corinthians 6:14
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?


Bob’s thoughts:

As we drove up the lane to the church there was a sign requesting first-time visitors to turn on their flashers. I didn’t get to ask anyone what the response would be, but thought it was an interesting idea. We have been to many churches that have designated parking spaces identified for first-time visitors but never any church that utilized that information. There were friendly people to point the way for parking, but exit signage would be helpful.

We were welcomed at the door and questioned as to whether we were first-time visitors. In a church of this size, that was amazing.

I was grumping through the service about the lack of a cross in the large sanctuary, then after the service, outside the sanctuary in the large hall, I noticed the exquisite large translucent cross under glass in the waterfall.

We had worshiped here before the building was built that houses the sanctuary. Not being a fan of large services and loud music, I think I was somewhat biased until I heard the sermon.

The message referred to an “Uncommon Marriage” and with how common divorce is now, I think it is an accurate current title. The sermon was developed well with good Biblical references. There was some bluntness that was really called for…the message is too important to get lost in vagueness. I experienced many of the reactions referred to as my baby girls grew into adulthood and now have the same concerns over my granddaughters.

A marriage that doesn’t include Jesus Christ has a poor chance of survival.


Jan’s thoughts:

We heard Lauren and Tony Dungy would be speaking at this worship service, and since we had not been here for a couple of years, decided to attend.

The building and grounds have changed drastically since being completed and put in full operation. I surmised they were serious about greeting visitors when we saw signs next to the driveway up the hill instructing first-time visitors to turn on their flashers so they could be directed to a special parking area near the main entrance. This huge facility needs – and has – more than just excellent signage, but also a map.

The only cross I saw was behind the stunning indoor waterfall which somehow accentuated it all the more.

Two greeters held the door for everyone and somehow one identified us as visitors, which amazed me. He gave us a visitor packet with information about Victory and a card for a free beverage at the café. Several other folks greeted us as well.

The music was excellently performed at high volume, and with three huge screens above the stage, the words were projected on the center screen and the solo performer for each song was shown in a close-up on the other two.

Part one of this sermon series called “Me to We” focused on dating, and those present were forewarned that the service would be PG-13 in nature.

The Dungys were invited to speak about marriage, specifically theirs which has lasted through 31 years and 9 children. They recounted how, after each move throughout Tony’s career, their first priority was finding a church, even before a house. Their advice centered around 3 C’s: Christ-centeredness in the marriage, commitment, and intentional communication. They pointed out that God designed marriage to be lasting, not perfect.

After the Dungys left the stage the pastor preached openly and bluntly about dating. He declared that marriage and other human relationships are only as healthy as those in them, that everyone has issues, and much marriage trouble has nothing to do with the marriage.

He proclaimed openly that if anyone disagrees with God they should know, God is right and they are wrong. Many might not appreciate his direct, blunt way of communicating, but I found it a breath of fresh air.

He listed four kinds of daters: the selfish ones who want something, the spiritual ones who are waiting for God to point to just the right person, the idealistic ones who are waiting for everything to be perfect, and the Godly ones, after which he offered some excellent advice to parents of teens.

The remainder of the message was directed toward parents and their obligation to enforce boundaries and protect their children from mistakes in this arena. His most urgent point was: Do not let the culture teach your children about sex.

He touched on the topic of the effects of sexual abuse, which is something not normally discussed in churches, unfortunately. Survivors of this heinous crime need to know they are not alone, that God really does love them, and that it’s possible to find their way out of that pit.

The book signing was very well attended and a testament to the organizational skills of the coordinators.


Our prayer for this church:

We pray, Lord, that this church continues to follow You that they may always treat each other with the love and compassion You taught. Amen.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

First United Presbyterian Church of Crafton Heights

Today we worshiped at First United Presbyterian Church of Crafton Heights, 50 Stratmore Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15205, 412.921.6153, www.chup.org, Rev. David Carver, Pastor.


Scripture

John 20:1-9
"Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”

So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was still lying in its place, separate from the linen. Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed. (They still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)"

I Corinthians 15:12-20
"But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep."


Bob’s thoughts:

We returned to CHUP to be infused with joy on Easter and we were filled.

We were glad to have the opportunity to join a communion service for those who missed the Maundy Thursday worship.

I am always interested in what renovations have occurred since our last visit and the ones I have noticed have been well thought out with obvious harmony between the aesthetics and mechanics and with good attention to the needs of the congregation.

The pastor who led us through the call to worship was intentional that our response of “Hallelujah” should be with emphasis since it was regarding Christ is raised.

We really enjoyed the great music produced by the small choir.

The sermon developed well and became a one-on-one talk. The tape of all our sins has been erased and forgotten in Christ.

I was questioned once on God’s name of “I Am” and fumbled through a poor answer. Now I can explain that there is no separation in time with God, that we are connected to the Cross through time and space.

I have heard people witness as to what they did to come to Christ and can only admit that I did absolutely nothing. Christ claimed and overwhelmed me completely. I will be grateful forever, but can take no credit. I don’t even know if I had the choice to say no, it was that overwhelming. Maybe it was that I stood still and admitted how far I had fallen, but my sins have been nailed to His cross and He raised me up.


Jan’s thoughts:

We last visited this church 2 ½ years ago. The transformation looks to be nearly, if not entirely complete and the sanctuary especially looks truly amazing. The updates have included spatial rearrangement, lighting modernization, and a beautiful paint job that incorporates the entire sanctuary and especially framing the chancel which looks stunning.

We arrived early enough to participate in a brief and moving service of Communion prior to worship, which I really appreciated.

The music was exceptional: the organ was forceful enough to have a spiritual impact but the four male and four female voices comprising the choir were still loud and clear to my ears. There were a couple of new, unfamiliar songs and I loved the words. The offertory was presented by a guest, Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, who is blessed with talent on the piano.

The sermon was offered by guest preacher Dr. Tony Campolo, whose name I have heard for years but whom I never before had the pleasure of hearing. He spoke of how, if one could move fast enough, all of time could be compressed into one “now,” and that is how it is with God. He shared how he prays before getting out of bed in the morning, and he asked, “Is the resurrected Christ living in you?” I am afraid if I must ask that question, if I don’t already know the answer, I doubt the answer can be yes.

He drew on personal experience in telling how the Holy Spirit can work through someone.

1 – He advised us to develop the ability to concentrate on people and really connect with them. To look INTO and not just AT them.

2 – He said to become deeply concerned and do what you can do at any given time, regardless of how little it seems.

3 – He instructed to be committed to your faith and then ACT LIKE IT.

He closed with, “Let the Resurrected Christ be in you” to which I can only respond “Yes!”

It has been a long time since I experienced this depth of worship. This message touched me to my core. I was so very blessed by this service and this message and I am grateful to God for leading us here today.


Our prayer for this church:

Lord, we pray You continue to enlighten this congregation to Your purpose for them and they continue to experience the joy of serving You. Amen.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Allison Park Church

Yesterday we worshiped at Allison Park Church, 2326 Duncan Avenue, Allison Park, PA 15101, 412.747.7220, www.allisonparkchurch.com, Pastor Jeff Leake.


Scripture – 1 Peter 2:21-24

For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps.

He never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone.

He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered.

He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly.

He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right.

By his wounds you are healed.


Bob’s thoughts:

I was pleasantly surprised that in a larger church with loud music and flashing lights, there was a great cross, something missing from similar churches. The cross was such a welcome focus that none of the rest mattered. You don’t need a cross to worship Jesus, but the lack of one makes it seem like you are trying to forget that part.

I saw nothing about missional activity of the church but remembered that there was a good amount of mission going on. Mission can be lost when a church focuses on its members and their growth; I was pleased to learn that’s not the case here.

The congregation was asked to fill out an attendance questionnaire and the lights were immediately turned way down; it’s a good thing cell phones have lights.

The sermon was part four of a series. “Jesus Suffering and My Suffering” started with the premise that nothing connects us more quickly than shared pain. We lose sight of the fact that God understands our pain because Christ experienced pain here on earth.

When I was scheduled for heart bypass surgery, I knew that the power of Christ to heal me was there for me, but He didn’t want me to use it. The whole process was like watching a play, and I had completely entrusted my health to Christ. Was quite some time later I realized they stopped my heart to perform this surgery and the potential that I might not survive was real. A few months later God led me to witness to a friend who was having a heart valve replaced. My surgeon and medical staff were confident and capable, but my trust was foremost in Christ Jesus.

Following the service we got to watch some of the well organized and imaginative Easter egg hunt.


Jan’s thoughts:

It has been five years to the week since our last visit to this church, and we returned this week at the invitation of a different friend.

This is a huge, modern facility and I was pleased it had the signage necessary to figure out where we were headed.

On our way in we were greeted by several people with an enthusiastic handshake and by additional folks as we found our way to the worship area. As we made our way through the concourse we couldn’t help but notice it was set up for the largest Easter Egg Hunt in Pittsburgh, which obviously took much organization and effort to bring to fruition.

The music was passionately performed, the volume was fine for me, and the words on the screens were easy to read.

I’m sure Bob will comment on the cross, but I, too, appreciated its beauty: it was large and backlit, which made it stand out all the more in the dark worship area.

The message was kicked off with a video about Owen, a 7-year-old from the UK, who lives with a very rare disease, and how he came to be friends with a 3-legged Great Dane named Haatchi. It’s a heartwarming story of how two souls found each other and help each other get through life despite their individual strengths and limitations. CLICK HERE to watch the 9-minute video.

The message, “Jesus’ Suffering and My Suffering,” was part four of a series with the major point “Nothing connects us as quickly as shared pain.” Whenever we encounter someone who has struggled as we have/are, there is an instant rapport, but for some reason we still wonder if God cares about our pain. Reminders included:

1 – When I look at Jesus, I know that God understands.
2 – When I look at Jesus, I see an example as to how to respond in the midst of my pain.
3 – When I look at Jesus, I see healing for my soul.

Displayed on the screens were the Scriptures detailing Jesus’ response to His treatment and how we can choose to behave based on His example:
1 – Refuse selfishness
2 – Refuse manipulation
3 – Refuse resentment
4 – Refuse revenge
5 – Entrust our lives to God

He equated entrusting our lives to God with entrusting our well-being to the surgeon when we go under the knife. Having done exactly that recently, the words that come to mind include dependence, relaxed confidence, and faith.

What I couldn’t help but think had to do with the title: “Jesus’ Suffering and My Suffering.” If indeed “nothing connects us as quickly as shared pain,” what does that say about Jesus’ suffering and His reasons for allowing our suffering? We may suffer silently for a time, but sooner or later we often voice our displeasure about whatever it is we are going through, and often we ask “Why?” as if we might actually understand if God were to condescend to answer our question.

In fact, we are asked to suffer in many of the same ways Christ suffered: betrayal, loss, mistreatment, and Scripture assures us that He is glorified in our trusting Him in the midst of our suffering.

If we can grasp the bond between a child and a dog and their mutual understanding of each other’s impairment and suffering, is it really so difficult to believe that in some mysterious way our suffering brings us closer to Christ?


Our prayer for this church:

Lord, we pray this church will continue to put all its faith in You. Amen.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Grace Community

Yesterday we worshiped at Grace Community Church, 9160 Marshall Road, Cranberry Township, PA 16066, 724.779.7997, www.mygcc.org, Matt Kaltenberger, Lead Pastor.


Scripture – 2 Timothy 1:9-14

He has saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.

What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you – guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.


Bob’s thoughts:

In the recovery room of a local hospital we met a nurse who told us about this service (evangelism works everywhere), so we have looked forward to visiting this church for the Saturday evening service.

We had worshiped in their old location twice before they built this spacious new church.

Worship is held in an auditorium with comfortable seats and good aisle spacing and even cup holders. I remember the lack of a cross at the old location and as large as the new place is, I still couldn’t find one.

Visitors were offered an exception from the offering, something with which I disagree. I wore earplugs but may not have needed them; with the smoke generators and lights on stage, I guessed the volume would be too loud for my ears. The female leads were agreeable.

There was no chance for confession of sin before Communion (it was addressed after, though) so we abstained. The elements were served efficiently and silently, both passed together.

The sermon was the first in a series called “Believe It or Not” which asked what we believe as Christians. More appropriately in whom do we believe? We tend to try to acquire facts but what we need is to believe in Christ even when we don’t understand. May we boldly say “I know whom I have believed.”


Jan’s thoughts:

I will attend a bridal shower this afternoon, so we took this as an opportunity to attend a Saturday evening service we had wanted for some time to attend.

We visited this church twice before, but this was our first visit to their new facility. It sits at the top of a hill and is spread out with an abundance of parking. As we approached the building, greeters welcomed us with open doors and smiles; several others smiled and said hello also. This is a warm welcome for a huge church with three weekend services.

We anticipated needing earplugs, which we later learned the church provides although we did not see them. We usually prefer sitting as far back as possible, but those seats were reserved and unavailable. However even with my sensitive ears the volume was just fine and I didn’t need them after all.

The music was well done and it was a pleasure to hear the female voices leading from the crowded stage. I’m not such a fan of smoke, so was happy we were as far back as we were, but the audience seemed captivated. The songs were new to me, but still Christ-centered praise music.

I was surprised there was no opportunity for confession of sin prior to serving Communion. Instead the prayer of thanksgiving afterward included a general confession.

This was week one of a series, “Believe It or Not,” which asks “What do you REALLY believe about God, Jesus, salvation, and life?” I totally agree: the biggest question comes when we try to match up our expectations about God with our own experiences and what we see in the world.

He used questions such as, “Is it possible to have complete confidence in God even when we don’t have complete understanding?” and “What if He does what you don’t expect?” to bring home the point: “Instead of interpreting God’s character through your circumstances, interpret your circumstances through God’s character.” Everything changes when we, like Paul, can say that we are “not ashamed because I know WHOM I have believed.” It’s the personal relationship that changes everything.

When our son was killed in an auto accident, this became the central question in my heart. I never expected it. It never occurred to me that God would allow something like that. My questions to God about why will probably not be answered this side of heaven. Instead the answer that has come is that God is good and sovereign and through faith in Christ Jesus, as Pastor Matt stated, “even if you die, you live.”

We will all die eventually. The only question is our destiny, which is based on our own choice. If you have not already accepted God’s invitation to faith in His Son, I pray you will take Him up on it. It changes everything – past, present, and future.


Our prayer for this church:

Lord God, help us to break free from the world’s ways and may our faith be in You alone. Amen.