Sunday, June 22, 2014
Today we worshiped at Burry’s Church / St. John’s United Evangelical Protestant Church, 1835 Route 68, Rochester, PA 15074, 724.452.6941, www.burryschurch.org, Win Groseclose, Senior Pastor.
Scripture – Luke 12:22-34
"And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat, nor about your body, what you will put on. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds! And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.
“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."
I was glad to get back here for a visit…we were moving some things for our daughter, and this church was on en route.
I like the feel of this church, especially the lighted cross and stained glass.
The exceptional response to the first praise song fell off for the rest of the music.
The sermon was a reminder for us about getting out from under our stuff. God has never failed to provide but the excess stuff is a burden, not a blessing.
Circumstances placed us in this neighborhood this morning, so we returned to this church after only one year. Unfortunately we arrived just as the service was starting so had no time to chat beforehand.
The ¾-full sanctuary was lovely with intricate, colorful stained glass.
Those seated nearby welcomed us at the appointed greeting time.
The first song was contemporary, and I was amazed at the enthusiasm from the song leaders and the congregation: there was clapping and even foot stomping!
We were privileged to witness the Installation of the Vacation Bible School Servants, a large group committed to teaching the youth about Christ…an awesome responsibility and privilege.
The sermon was “The Raven and the Lily” and spoke to the topic of worry. He explained that when Jesus referred to the ravens and the lilies, His audience would have recognized that He was referring to all that was unclean (as were the ravens) as well as clean (the lilies).
He continued to say the pagans have reason to worry, but when a believer gives in to worldly anxiety and fear and lets worry get the better of them, it betrays their lack of faith. Faith is impoverished by worry.
This message was a strong reminder of the uselessness and sinfulness of worry. In our culture we always say we know we should not worry, but we often forget to remind ourselves that God knows our needs and will be faithful to provide. Of course there are times when He provides in unexpected ways, or He uses trials to teach us. But the bottom line is that He will always give us what we need, whether or not it is what we want.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray the church will feel liberated and their souls refreshed by getting their excess stuff gone. Amen.
Monday, June 16, 2014
Yesterday we worshiped at Neelsville Presbyterian Church, 20701 Frederick Road, Germantown, MD 20876, 301.972.3916, www.neelsville.org, Rev. Dr. Peter Della Santina, Senior Pastor.
Scripture – Romans 12:14-16
"Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited."
We were headed home after a fast-paced and very meaningful weekend in Virginia, driving along 70/270 and searching for a church where we could worship. Most times the search would show a church we had just passed, but after a few false starts we found this one. We arrived just as the service was starting and following some confusion as to where we should park and which door to enter, we were led to a seat. If there was any welcoming, it was before we arrived.
The church ceiling rises to a sharp peak with a tall cross suspended in front, and we enjoyed the decorative light fixtures suspended from the ceiling.
The pastor talked about the recent meeting of the elders and the attempt to discern God’s direction for the church. It is a Presbyterian church so acceptance of any change will likely be resisted by some.
The message offered some clarity to the Scripture, Romans 12:14-16, and broke it out to five main points.
When the pastor started the sermon I sensed the onset of spiritual warfare, and silently offered prayer for the pastor and congregation to be armored by God. I am sure He will comfort and sustain them through the coming onslaught.
With the great diversity of the congregation, I expected some passion in the singing; however I could only hear a few voices.
We did get to speak with one member who sported a great t-shirt, and had a moment with the pastor.
We spent this past weekend visiting our family and attending a special ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. It was a gorgeous weekend for travel and a meaningful time.
On our way home we sought a church in the area and found ourselves at Neelsville in Germantown, MD. The building was recently renovated, so I’m guessing that signage is on the list yet, although the restrooms were easy to find as the signs protruded into the hallway…always most helpful. The design of the sanctuary is breathtaking, with lots of stone and wood work, and just the right touches of stained glass.
We arrived a bit late but several folks greeted us on our way in, a smiling usher made sure we had bulletins and another helped us locate seats in the large, crowded sanctuary. We were able to talk with several other folks following the service.
The sermon had the feel of a family meeting, with the pastor filling in the congregation on the results of what sounded like long-term discernment on the future direction of the church. These results included continuing to grow the youth ministry, holding to their convictions, caring for each other, and reaching out in mission.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray You bless this church with discernment, that they may know the direction of Your call for them. Amen.
Sunday, June 8, 2014
Today we worshiped at Christ Church at Grove Farm, 249 Duff Road, Sewickley, PA 15143, 412.741.4900, www.ccgf.org, Rev. Dr. John Guest, Interim Senior Pastor.
Scripture – John 15:1-8
"“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples."
Whenever we have questioned if God still wants us to visit churches, we have always gotten an answer. Today we were unsure of where to go. I was praying for God to lead us to a church that would be celebrating Pentecost, but quickly revised my prayer to wherever God wanted us to worship, and Christ Church at Grove Farm came immediately to mind.
We were welcomed and engaged in conversation by a number of people.
Both the sanctuary and the hall where contemporary worship was held have a prominent cross.
I thought the signage was excellent but would appreciate exit arrows from the parking lot.
We sat in the back to distance ourselves from the speakers and got by without ear plugs.
We sat across the aisle from a familiar face and I thought about how difficult it must be for someone so well known to be able to just enjoy worship.
We were blessed to be able to pray for founding pastor John Guest as he had concerns for his voice after an ailment. Christ not only used him to deliver a message for us, but let his voice be clear throughout.
The message was well put together and delivered, interspersed with supporting Scripture and personal stories. When Christ referred to Himself as I Am in the presence of the Jews, He was speaking as if He is God because He is. As God is using us, He is calling us to be productive for Him.
The Scripture made me smile as it reminded me of when I painted ivy on the walls of our bathroom in Crafton and included some of these verses before we moved. I often wonder how God used it.
I was glad we got to hear the female praise leader sing as she had a delightful voice.
We have visited this church twice before but at this visit I was struck by the signage: everywhere I looked, I knew where the hallway led or what was behind the door. And the signs jutted out from the wall, so I could see them from a distance. Truly some of the best signage I’ve seen at a church.
We saw a few of the people we know who now belong to this church, and several others introduced themselves and struck up conversations.
I have not heard John Guest preach before, but was grateful God sent us here today. The message was the last of the series “The I AM’s” about Jesus’ “I Am” statements, and centered on His statement, “I Am the true vine.”
The pastor pointed out that the Jews were well aware of the significance of the words “I Am,” that He was speaking as if He was God, which we know is because He is God. When He said He is the vine, He meant He is the TRUE vine, the one authentic source of life, and Jesus is so life-changing, that when He works through us, we are life-changing too.
We have a deep desire to be significant, and God is looking for us to be productive for Him. He wants us to do something so He prunes us, removing things from our lives that are interfering with our ability to be productive for Him. However the fruit we produce must be the result of His work through us, so we need to abandon to Him, surrender and let Him do what He will in and through us. It’s all about Jesus, not us.
In closing the pastor led a prayer in which he asked the congregation to softly repeat after him. He led this prayer using words from the traditional wedding ceremony, allowing the congregation to feel the weight and importance of our relationship with Christ. It was interesting and quite effective, I thought.
Our prayer for this church:
Dear Lord, please continue to grow faith so that You would always be worshiped with absolute and complete trust as Lord. Prune us all that we might grow in You. Amen.
Sunday, June 1, 2014
Today we worshiped at Pathway Church, Moon Campus, Gilmary Center, 601 Flaugherty Run Road, Coraopolis, PA 15108, 724.843.6381, www.lifeatpathway.com, Chad Agnew, Campus Pastor.
Scripture – Acts 15:13-35
"When they finished, James spoke up. “Brothers,” he said, “listen to me. Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:
“ ‘After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things’ — things known from long ago.
“It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”
Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, men who were leaders among the believers. With them they sent the following letter:
The apostles and elders, your brothers,
To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia:
We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul— men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.
So the men were sent off and went down to Antioch, where they gathered the church together and delivered the letter. The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message. Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the believers.
After spending some time there, they were sent off by the believers with the blessing of peace to return to those who had sent them.
But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, where they and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord."
At Easter we received a postcard inviting us to worship at this church (see, someone does respond to the mailings).
The complex is spread out a bit and we were a little later arriving than we had hoped. We wandered around the buildings to where I had noticed some people standing; it turned out they were blocking the sign directing toward worship. We were greeted by a few people during the service; I thought with a smaller congregation we would stand out more.
A lot of the modern churches don’t display a cross, but this service was in the gym of a Catholic retreat center and there were a number of cross banners on the wall. I appreciated them, whichever entity was responsible. During Communion there was a cross displayed on the screens.
I did not need my faithful earplugs and thought the praise worship was enjoyable. Also I could hear the words over the music. I particularly enjoyed the keyboardist as she smiled through most of the praise songs.
The sermon was well developed with good Scriptural references. The main points from Acts 15:15-35: the church was from Jewish law and tradition and met to see how to incorporate the Gentiles into the faith. There were some who wanted to burden the Gentiles with the very load from which Christ freed them. In their meeting they came to agreement on a few specifics that were acceptable to all without compromising their core beliefs. Perhaps the mainline churches should look closely at this idea. Standing for nothing does not grow churches.
This campus of Pathway Church meets at a Catholic retreat center, so I imagine the weekly set-up and tear-down takes considerable dedication and work. It also meant a tour and seeking signage was meaningless, which worked out well since we arrived just about start time.
Still, there were worshipers outside who welcomed us as we entered, and additional greetings once we were inside where the pastor and several other gentlemen were setting up additional chairs.
Although not an order of worship, the bulletin is colorful and full of just about any sort of information one might want about this church. They are surely a busy group with all sorts of inviting events.
The music was excellent. In spite of sitting as far back as possible since we fully anticipated needing earplugs, but neither of us did. To me this is proof that the power of the music is not in the volume but in the words (which were large and white and readable even on gorgeous and colorful backgrounds) and the emotion with which the song is presented.
The message about “Essentials” was part of a series called “Real Church: Going Viral – A Teaching Series in the Book of Acts.” After opening with the replay of the viral video “Charlie Bit My Finger,” the points of the message were made: Christ’s sacrifice of His rights for our good is our standard and when we voluntarily limit our personal freedom, our sacrifice demonstrates maturity. We must lift our eyes beyond ourselves because letting go of self-interest is true freedom.
I was glad to participate in Communion, but the format was new to me. The words of institution and prayer were the same, but when the people went forward to partake, the elements were sitting on a table and everyone simply took a piece of bread and a cup, went back to their seat, and, as instructed, partook of the bread individually and the cup communally. I’m not sure yet what I think about that.
I appreciated meeting the pastor’s wife afterward, who is also a blogger, and am anxious to visit her blog.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray we all learn to embrace truth, consider others, and choose unity in Christ. Amen.