Sunday, December 28, 2014

First UP of Crafton Heights

Today we worshiped at The First United Presbyterian Church of Crafton Heights, 50 Stratmore Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15205, 412.921.6153,, Pastor David B. Carver.

Scripture – NIV

Isaiah 42:1-4
“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets.

A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.

In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”

Luke 2:25-35
Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,

you may now dismiss your servant in peace.

For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:

a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”

The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Bob’s thoughts:

We were redirected a few times today before we returned to CHUP. The odd thing is, it was our first choice but we were looking for an earlier start time.

We were welcomed and engaged in conversation and met folks we didn’t know.

The only cross I noticed was the standard Communion table cross, and I realized that though I appreciate the large crosses, the small one was enough for me.

For me the sermon raised the question, “Do we put Christ away when we store the trappings of Christmas?”

Christ is the gift that keeps on giving. Don’t wait till you think you need Him again. You need Him now.

Jan’s thoughts:

After discovering unannounced schedule changes at two other churches, we found ourselves in the vicinity of a church we knew, and it was a blessing to greet and be greeted by a number of old friends as well as meeting new friends.

Parish Associate George Leitze gave the sermon which was entitled “The Gift Goes On!” He asked what it is we do with Jesus after Christmas…do we pack Him away with the decorations or bring Him with us into the New Year?

Time will answer this question for each of us.

Our prayer for this church:

Father, we pray for Your continued blessings on CHUP. May they continue to reflect Your glory. Amen.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Southminster Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Southminster Presbyterian Church, 799 Washington Road, Mt. Lebanon, PA 15228, 412.343.8900,, Rev. Dr. Daniel B. Merry, Senior Pastor.

Scripture – Luke 1:26-38

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”

The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.”

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her

Bob’s thoughts:

At times we really need to recharge our batteries, and Christmas worship with handbells at Southminster was just what we needed. It is amazing how the handbell performance takes you into worship.

There is an additional Advent wreath with candles suspended horizontally above the chancel. It was unusual to worship here without the organ, but I especially appreciated the choir’s voices falling on the congregation from the rear balcony.

The sermon, “A time for miracles…”, developed early from a story of disbelief to Mary accepting God’s call for her to the reason for the season: love.

We have seldom been greeted here by people we do not know, but the woman next to Jan said hello.

Jan’s thoughts:

We have visited here numerous times and when we feel the need to return we are always welcomed with open arms by our friends. Several others greeted us as well.

The sanctuary was beautifully decorated for Christmas, and it was an absolute treat to hear – and watch – the Southminster Handbell Ensemble.

Watching one of the church families light the Advent Candle brought back memories of years past when our family served in this capacity at another Presbyterian church.

The message was entitled “A time for miracles…” in which we were reminded of how people in general become kinder and more loving, giving sacrificially where there is need. Somehow each year, as we remember God’s gift of His Son, we are prompted to give ourselves. If we could maintain the Christmas perspective on giving year-round, every day would be like Christmas…like God intended.

Wishing everyone a blessed CHRISTmas!

Our prayer for this church:

Lord, we feel the Holy Spirit at work in this church and pray their hearts are always open to Your leading. Amen.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

North Branch Church

Today we worshiped at North Branch Church, 139 North Branch Road, Monaca, PA 15061, 724.774.0711,, Pastor Andrew Beery.

Bob’s thoughts:

I was looking forward to visiting North Branch as I still have fond memories of our first visit there when we heard the Rev. Dr. Richard Morledge. The message was so good that I went away feeling like the whole church was really Christ-centered. I also remembered the large wooden cross and a sense of the tremendous potential at this church.

It was disappointing to only be greeted as we received a bulletin and by two women after the service, but otherwise ignored. The only friendliness was from a few young children who smiled.

We were sorry to learn of the passing of the pastor’s father.

No Scripture was read and the speaker recited a nativity story.

Jan’s thoughts:

It’s been almost two years since our previous visit here, and this time we vaguely recalled a parking area across from the church, so we did not have to walk up the hill from the lower parking area.

We were greeted by several gentlemen when we entered and by several others following the service. Much friendly conversation went on around us.

Sadly, the pastor’s father passed away so the pastor was unexpectedly out of town. Consequently, an elder led the service and someone else (presumably another elder) gave the message: a reading of “A Walk One Winter Night” by Al Andrews.

Our prayer for this church:

Lord, we pray this church opens its hearts to Your message for them. May they grow in Your purpose. Amen.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Wildwood Chapel

Today we worshiped at Wildwood Chapel, 2850 Jack Street, Aliquippa, PA 15001, 724.378.7150,, Pastor Rich Liptak.

Scripture – NKJV

Ephesians 4:17-24
This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.

But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.

Romans 6:1-14
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.

Romans 8:5-11
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.

Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

Galatians 5:16-26
I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

Bob’s thoughts:

It still amazes me how much more connected we feel when we are warmly welcomed. We were greeted by a number of people, including two Marines.

The sanctuary is a wide arc with a great wood beam ceiling. The floor is sloped theater-style so it was easy to see the screen. The only cross I could find in the sanctuary was on the ceiling light fixtures.

When we first arrived and heard the volume of the praise group practicing, I went looking for ear plugs, but with the exception of the last song, I didn’t need them. It was good to sing some familiar praise songs, though I wish we could have heard the female leads. I also enjoyed the offering solo.

A woman shared a great personal story on Christ’s healing and her recovery.

The pastor talked about the songs we sing in our worship being for God…it was encouraging to hear that again. I really appreciated the pastor’s prayer for illumination, something that is often missing.

I thought the sermon was well developed and biblically supported with plenty of Scripture. Every time I thought the message was running a little long, the pastor brought up another good point. The congregation was attentive and the sermon seemed well received.

I smiled when he talked about God redirecting our paths, and how often He has done that to Jan and me.

The pastor moved around a lot during the sermon but there was never any echo or feedback.

Jan’s thoughts:

This church has been on our list for some time, and today turned out to be the day. The building is spacious with plenty of pews set in a circle facing the front of the large sanctuary.

As we entered and received a bulletin we were told this was nametag Sunday, which we learned is undertaken every few weeks. Numerous folks stopped to introduce themselves and welcome us, and I couldn’t help but wonder if the nametags had something to do with their comfort in greeting visitors. Of course Bob’s t-shirt attracted some other Marines in the congregation.

Plenty of time was given to greet others and many welcomed us and invited us to stay for donuts and coffee following worship. There were a few prayer requests and a testimony by a woman with a remarkable story of God’s healing.

I appreciated the pastor’s comment that the words to songs can give our spirits the words to worship God. I often feel this way.

The message, entitled “Two Natures in Conflict,” dealt with the sinful, fleshly nature with which we are born and the ‘new creation’ God calls us when we accept Christ as our Savior. He pointed out that whether the conversion is radical or gradual, the mind is transformed and how we ‘do life’ changes. However this transformation is hugely dependent on us and our willingness to put forth conscious effort to fight the cravings of the sin nature. We must run to God with the hidden things in the life of our mind and heart, things He knows already, but when we confess them barriers fall and we again experience a spiritual connection with God. We must choose to yield to our new nature instead of our sin nature. We must make a “continuous declaration of dependency.”

Something else that resonated with me was his definition of ‘living in the Spirit’: being constantly conscious of God’s Presence.

Of course, as long as we are on this side of heaven, our old nature will plague us. He proceeded to list five actions we can take to fight this spiritual battle:

1 – Humbly acknowledge the carnality in our minds and lives;

2 – Renounce the hidden things of darkness and confess them;

3 – Apply God’s Word to the situation; renovate the mind;

4 – Be constant; keep trying and don’t give up;

5 – Put guilt and shame in their place; “there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

I appreciated the concrete guidance in this message. Anyone who attempts to live in the Spirit has experienced the spiritual warfare he spoke of. And I agree that the battle is fought first in the mind, territory the Enemy is constantly working to possess. We must take this battle for our minds seriously and fight like our lives depend on it, because they do.

I was grateful for the time after the service to chat with the pastor.

Our prayer for this church:

Father, we pray this congregation is in tune to Your redirecting their journey; it is an exciting place to be. Amen.