Sunday, October 14, 2018

Mars United Presbyterian Church

Today we worshiped at Mars United Presbyterian Church, 232 Crowe Avenue, PO Box 805, Mars, PA 16046, 724.625.1365,, Rev. James Steiner, Interim Pastor.

Scripture – Job 13:1-12 NIV

“My eyes have seen all this, my ears have heard and understood it. What you know, I also know; I am not inferior to you. But I desire to speak to the Almighty and to argue my case with God. You, however, smear me with lies; you are worthless physicians, all of you! If only you would be altogether silent! For you, that would be wisdom. Hear now my argument; listen to the pleas of my lips. Will you speak wickedly on God’s behalf? Will you speak deceitfully for him? Will you show him partiality? Will you argue the case for God? Would it turn out well if he examined you? Could you deceive him as you might deceive a mortal? He would surely call you to account if you secretly showed partiality. Would not his splendor terrify you? Would not the dread of him fall on you? Your maxims are proverbs of ashes; your defenses are defenses of clay.

Bob’s thoughts:

After some confusion over a church start time not being updated on a website, we ended up with time to kill and found a good breakfast place with delicious coffee and a church nearby where we could worship.

This small church is older but has a modern feel to it. There are dual projection screens and a third for the side-facing choir. The choir sounded pleasant but the print on the screens was small and so poorly contrasted as to be mostly unreadable. The congregation is older and I’m sure would benefit from more readable monitors.

I might have to pick up the book from the children’s message for our grandchildren. The message went well and was a good segue to today’s message: How NOT to Console a Friend, a favorite subject of mine. The valuable advice: show up, shut up, and keep up.

My favorite memory is visiting a widow from our church. I never spoke a word; I got her water, tissue, held her hand, steadied her walk, I listened only. She commented later that what I said meant the most to her in her sorrow. Be there. Place a reminder on your calendar to send a note on the anniversary of the loss. Don’t hesitate to bring up the loss, even if the bereaved doesn’t want to talk then about the person, they will still appreciate knowing you remember.

Let them talk! My therapy when our son was killed was to talk about our loss and his life and witness. Jesus Christ got us through the tough times but talking about him let us recover some sense of reality. It is a new normal and it takes time to get there.

A few people said hello and a woman spoke to us after the service, sharing their hopes of rebuilding as a church during this interim period. We did see some younger folks in worship, which is a good start. I don’t know if they have done a church assessment yet but hope they are praying to discern what God wants next for His church.

Jan’s thoughts:

After an unpredictable morning and redirection, we arrived just before the 11 a.m. service.

A few people welcomed us in the short time before the service began, and others greeted us during and after worship.

It has been 9½ years since our last visit to this church and we found it interesting that we recalled only one physical element of the facility: the doors separating the sanctuary from the fellowship area.

The sanctuary is traditional and the atmosphere formal…this felt like the church in which I grew up. It has been some time since we followed along with a bulletin and an order of worship.

The 11-member choir wore identical robes and a group photo was displayed on the monitors during the anthem.

The church welcomed Rev. Liddy Barlow as the guest preacher. Rev. Barlow has served as Executive Minister of Christian Associates of Southwest Pennsylvania since April 2014.

The message was entitled “How NOT to Console a Friend” and was based on both Job and her personal experience with loss. I appreciated her positive perspective on what one can do to comfort a friend in grief:

1 – Show up. In other words, be there, connect, and offer to perform specific tasks or functions as opposed to saying “Let me know if I can do anything.”

2 – Shut up…and listen. I have found this hard to remember sometimes.

3 – Keep up. Just as there is no timeline for grief, there should be no expiration date on showing care and concern for a friend who is experiencing a hard season of life.

Our prayer for this church:

Lord, we pray You will unite Your church in one accord to follow Your direction. May we all know the joy of serving You. Amen.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Southminster Presbyterian Church

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

Scripture – 2 Timothy 3:16-17 NIV

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Bob’s thoughts:

We were early and I was able to finish my coffee and partake of a donut.

I am always happy to find a cross here and appreciated the banners.

I realized we visited for a previous sermon from this man and was hoping for more. I turned my hearing aids up but still had trouble understanding some of the message. I question architectural and geographical references as being prime authenticators of Scripture. It was an important point that God was declaring the value of women.

I enjoyed Pastor Dan relating how during his time in Malawi he would be asked to what tribe he belonged. The concept that Americans do not have tribes was not believable to his Malawian friends, so he claimed the Steeler Nation as his tribe.

On a regular basis, when I am at the VA, people inquire knowingly that I am a WWII vet. For a long time I offered that my time of service was Vietnam but realized it’s much easier (and I guess believable) to just speak of a WWII battle and everybody is happy.

I enjoyed the children’s message especially because the speaker’s body language captivated the children.

Jan’s thoughts:

We arrived early enough at the 9 a.m. service that we had time to partake of coffee and donuts and enjoy conversation with some friends.

The room filled up slowly, as is usual with contemporary worship services, and the rear of the room is set up for parents to sit with their little ones while they play during the service. They are also conveniently nearby when it’s time for the children’s message.

The message was presented by Karl Hudson, the Director of Youth and Young Adult Ministries. It was part four of a series called Believe, and this entry was titled Just Fairy Tales. In it, Karl stated many people have issues with trusting the truth of the Bible, but we should not mistrust it just because we don’t completely understand it. There is an abundance of proof, there are statements from eyewitnesses, and archeological finds that speak to the credibility of Scripture.

He pointed out that as a youth director, he loves to read Scripture to children, but the support of parents is a crucial component of helping youth to internalize God’s Word.

I was glad to be able to participate in World Communion Sunday.

Our prayer for this church:

Father, we pray Your continued blessings on Your church as they work to discern the person You are sending to lead them. Amen.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

New Creation Free Methodist Church

Today we worshiped at New Creation Free Methodist Church, 767 Arlington Avenue, New Castle, PA 16101 724.654.7952,, Lead Pastor Chuck Jewell.

Scripture – 1 Thessalonians 5:12-27 NIV

Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you. Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.

Brothers and sisters, pray for us. Greet all God’s people with a holy kiss. I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the brothers and sisters.

Bob’s thoughts:

We were warmly greeted by those near us and during the welcome time, and some thanked me for my service.

There is a large cross outside in front of the church and a wooden cross over diagonal paneling on the wall.

It was a real treat for me to be able to clearly and easily hear and understand the pastor.

There are two projection screens, making it easy to see the words as we sang. I enjoyed hearing the pastor get an amen when he spoke.

Was pleased to note in the bulletin that Wednesday is reserved as the Pastor’s Sabbath. Another thing that made me smile from the bulletin was See You at the Pole. When our late son was a high school junior, we got a call from the principal: “Your son is standing out by the flagpole by himself and won’t come in.” Senior year, different school, same call. We were proud he was never embarrassed by his faith.

There was an extended prayer time with various stations set up around the sanctuary. While I didn’t go to the stations, it did give me time to pray for the church and its leaders.

Enjoyed the female voice at solo at the end of the service…her voice was too big for the sanctuary. We were also privileged to witness a baptism afterward.

The church has been looking to acquire property and recently God led them to adjacent land and buildings with even a parking area. They hope to develop the green space for community involvement. God is leading them to exciting times.

Jan’s thoughts:

We were welcomed warmly by several people before we even found seats, and by others after we sat.

The sanctuary has plenty of comfortable seating and acoustics that enabled us to hear well. The male voices leading the music blended well today, and with only a keyboard and two acoustic guitars for back-up, provided a pleasant sound.

There were numerous announcements, including participation in a Samaritan’s Purse mission trip to flooded areas. This congregation seems to be very busy outside their own walls. They have recently purchased some property adjacent to their own which they plan to use to move out into the surrounding community in the hope of reaching unchurched neighbors.

Many churches have a greeting time, but this congregation greeted each other during one of the songs; it worked well.

The pastor kindly provided instructions for the planned Prayer Stations which were set up around the sanctuary. There was a kneeling rail, a prayer room, paper and a paper shredder signifying confession and repentance, stones and a bowl of water representing confession to the Lord, a Sign of Hope poster board where everyone was invited to share messages or prayers of hope, and a prayer request bowl where the prayers submitted will be prayed over at prayer gatherings.

This church does this every fourth Sunday. Obviously, prayer is a vital part of this congregation’s spiritual life.

The message focused on the Scripture passage and verse by verse the pastor pointed out the necessity of prayer in order to accomplish each Biblical command.

Following the message, everyone stepped outside for the baptism of an 11-year-old. I appreciated her testimony beforehand where she recounted accepting Christ in third grade. Praise God is all I can say.

Our prayer for this church:

Lord, we pray You will continue to bless Your church. Guide them in the use of this area You have given them and encourage them as they endeavor to spread Your Good News. Amen.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Stone United Methodist Church

Today we worshiped at Stone United Methodist Church, 956 South Main Street, Meadville, PA 16335, 814.724.6736,, Rev. Sarah Daniels Roncolato.

Scripture – NIV

Philippians 2:1-11 –

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Micah 6:6-8 –

With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God?

Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old?

Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.

And what does the Lord require of you?

To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Bob’s thoughts:

In looking to visit a store in the area, we combined shopping and worship and enjoyed a pleasant drive together.

We were greeted by a woman on the praise team who is a Marine. It’s always great to meet a Marine sister who is also a sister in Christ.

The tall gothic church has a section in the rear for nursery; with the removal of a few pews they created a nice child care area. High above the cross on the Communion table is a white lighted cross.

The pastor was out with a death in the family and the pastor who filled in is being installed at his church tonight.

In his message he mentioned the song Just Say Jesus. It brought back pleasant memories of working with the youth group at church where, in response to almost every question put to the youth, one young man would always offer “Jesus.” Thinking back, it may have been the right answer more than we wanted to admit. And we know Jesus is never the wrong answer.

I remember a discussion with an Old Testament scholar, that I came away with the realization that the pain Christ was asking God to take away from Him was the pain of separation from God. The physical pain the human Christ endured was beyond our comprehension, but He loved us that much.

Jan’s thoughts:

The scenery was breathtaking as we made this drive, arriving with time to look around a little and speak to a couple of members.

The reason for the name of the church was clear: this is a large, stone building with a vaulted ceiling and some of the most intricate stained glass I’ve seen. The sanctuary is sizeable and several rows of pews at the rear were rearranged to complete a closed-in space for containing and caring for little ones during the service. It was an imaginative and attractive solution.

The voices of the music leaders blended well and, with just the keyboard and acoustic guitar, it was gentle on the ears.

During the greeting time, everyone seemed to know how to make their way around and greet everyone else.

The echo made it a challenge to understand words spoken or sung, but as the preacher wore a microphone, I was able to hear him clearly.

The congregation had assembled I believe 20 “flood buckets” and personal care kits to be donated for flood relief assistance.

The installed pastor was away this week and the pulpit was filled by a visiting pastor who seemed to be known to the church. This evening he is slated to be installed as the pastor of a nearby non-denominational church and he and his wife have made five mission trips to Haiti since 2005.

The message was entitled, Do. Love. Walk, referring to Micah 6:6-8. He reminded us that we should love loving others and that everyone has a role to play within the Body of Christ.

Our prayer for this church:

Lord, we pray Your guidance for Your church and Your comfort for their pastor. Amen.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Crossroads Church Cranberry

Yesterday we worshiped at Crossroads Church Cranberry, 8533 Peters Road, Cranberry Township, PA 16066, 412.494.9999,, Mike Arnold, Campus Pastor.

Scripture – NIV

Genesis 50:15-20 –

When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept.

His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said.

But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

Hebrews 12:15 –

See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.

1 John 1:9 –

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

Psalm 103:12 –

…as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

Romans 8:28 –

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Bob’s thoughts:

Having been away most of the week, we looked forward to worshiping here and seeing some of our family. I didn’t realize God was using our visit for much more.

Early in the service, a young woman on the worship team sang an amazing rendition of “It Is Well With My Soul”, a song that brings bittersweet memories as it was one of the songs in church the day after our son was killed. It was performed so flawlessly that I may be able to get past the memory. Yesterday everything seemed right about the praise team…the right instruments and voices. Maybe it always is, but this day, it was right to me.

This past week I had the opportunity to introduce my wife to some of my family she had not met. At a reunion of Marine Combat Helicopter Squadrons from Vietnam she met, or at least got to see, a few thousand of my brothers. I came to realize while we visited the 30 or so survivors of my squadron, there was an aroma of Christ there which I did not expect. When I read a devotional in “Our Daily Bread” based on 2 Corinthians 2:14-17, it was clear to me that this was what I was sensing.

When the pastor was talking about being released from revenge, there was a second moment of clarity. It was part of my experience of releasing my heart from vengeful thoughts. Long before Christ claimed me, I learned to block these prideful inclinations toward revenge, and those who wronged me were dealt with way more severely than I would ever have thought of. When people treated me wrong, I would pray for them because the punishment was so severe.

I realized that there were people at my reunion who caused me pain/suffering that I had not forgiven. I pray they may never know that they caused me pain, and thanks be to God that He brought me release.

A thought from the message I appreciated: “No one can foil God’s purpose for you.”

Jan’s thoughts:

Yesterday was Grandparents’ Day, so we took the opportunity to worship with our grandchildren who live in the area.

I always enjoy worshipping here: the people are friendly, the music is well done, and the coffee is delicious. Also, I enjoy the hugs and watching the members interact warmly with each other.

Yesterday morning we watched two young brothers in the row in front of us as they stood singing with their arms around each other. I felt privileged to witness such a sweet moment.

The message was part four of the series Then God… and is called Used it for Good. Past messages in this series were said to have focused on times when God worked in unexpected ways, so now I’d like to hear the rest of the series.

This entry focused on God’s use of Joseph and his hardships, and how Joseph was able to avoid allowing bitterness to gain a foothold in his heart. The pastor observed that everyone gets hurt, it’s only a matter of time, but holding on to that hurt causes much harm to us and those around us. The only cure for bitterness is forgiveness, defined as releasing the right to get even. He stated that the power to forgive comes from “50/20 vision” – Genesis 50:20, Joseph’s affirmation to his brothers of God’s sovereignty and grace: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”

The pastor identified the specific path followed by Joseph in healing from hurt: Joseph faced his hurt, he released his right to revenge, and then he blessed his offenders.

He concluded by openly sharing a personal story about his own effort to forgive someone with whom he had a falling-out. This required a great deal of vulnerability on his part, and I am grateful to have this example to follow in the future. Indeed, God works in mysterious ways.

Our prayer for this church:

Lord, we pray for Your continued comfort and guidance for Your church. Lead them to where they need to be next. Amen.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

New Brighton Free Methodist Church

Today we worshiped at New Brighton Free Methodist Church, 925 11th Street, New Brighton, PA 15066, 724.843.2777,, Rev. Joshua A. Mackenstein, Pastor.

Scripture –

Romans 12:11 ESV –

Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord.

Bob’s thoughts:

We were warmly welcomed, it was about Sunday School time and we were invited to join one of the adult classes. We were not told what they were studying, only who was leading the class so we thought it best to wait in the air-conditioned sanctuary for the service to start.

We were greeted by the substitute pastor who shared a little about the Free Methodists.

There is an exquisite relief carving and picturesque banner on the front wall along with a wooden cross hung so it is angled out from the wall.

A number of members offered friendly, welcoming gestures such as which areas might be cooler and making sure we had bulletins. I was glad to get a prayer list.

I appreciated seeing the worship team meet for prayer before the service started. As always, I enjoyed watching the children, especially the two (obviously) sisters a few rows in front of us.

The trombone was a nice addition to the praise music.

The message dealt with our slothful approach compared to the zeal we should have for God. It made me remember when Christ claimed me. I was probably obnoxiously on fire for Christ. (This is true. ~Jan)

But longer-term Christians waited for that zeal to taper off. I still have trouble with that thinking. I found ways to be zealous without being so obnoxious and most importantly, to be all about Him, not me. I guess a goal would help new Christians not to settle to the level of the church.

I may be the only one who heard this part, but I heard a reference to getting back in sync with Christ as like a refreshing drink. It reminded me of something I read this morning about Marines just off the lines at Belleau Wood being called to fight at Soissons. They were marching to get to this new fight with little rest, no food or water, when they came to a muddy pool on the side of the road. They pulled out the sticks and leaves and had that refreshing drink that they still remembered long after the war as their best drink. Christ is like that. When we obey, He washes over us.

Jan’s thoughts:

We arrived especially early and several members greeted us cordially. We opted to look around a bit then wait in the air-conditioned sanctuary.

The pastor we met was filling the pulpit this morning and kindly took time for welcoming conversation along with some education about the denomination. The Free Methodists are much older than I realized, dating back to the Civil War era. A number of other folks also stopped on their way into the sanctuary to greet us.

After we found seats, someone thoughtfully stopped to let us know that coffee and pastries had been set out in the outer area.

The music was led by a trio including a trombone. When I saw it, I thought it might drown out the two leaders’ voices and the acoustic guitar, but he played softly and it was a delightful touch that blended perfectly.

In the message, called Awaken Your Spirit Within to Conquer Evil, Pastor Jim Miller spoke to anyone who has felt lethargic and in a slump: he asked “What will you do about it?” He reminded the congregation that we are not helpless and must take responsibility for our spiritual condition.

He pointed out that self-pity “is a dragon we need to slay NOW” and if we find ourselves in a slump and lacking fire in our spirit, we should call on God to restore our spirit instead of trumpeting the call that “I got this!” We don’t have the answers, but they can be found if we will open God’s Word because the answer IS in there. He said we have no business living like life is a duty and choosing to live hopelessly…that attitude is the equivalent of spitting on Jesus. We must come to the Cross as we are and ask God to restore our soul because we cannot restore our own souls any more than we can save ourselves.

I was pleased to partake in Communion and, following worship, to visit with some friends we did not know attended here.

Our prayer for this church:

Father, we pray You are with Your church as they struggle to carry on during their pastor’s illness. We ask that You touch the pastor and restore his health completely. Amen.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

McKees Rocks Assembly of God

Yesterday we worshiped at McKees Rocks Assembly of God, 835 Broadway, McKees Rocks, PA 15136, 412.331.8020,, Pastor James Tracey.

Scripture –

Romans 8:1-13 NASB –

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

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

So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh- for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

Galatians 5:19-21 NASB –

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Galatians 5:9-21 The Message –

It is obvious what kind of life develops out of trying to get your own way all the time: repetitive, loveless, cheap sex; a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic-show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming-yet-never-satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small-minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone into a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community. I could go on.

This isn’t the first time I have warned you, you know. If you use your freedom this way, you will not inherit God’s kingdom.

Galatians 6:7-8 NASB –

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.

Bob’s thoughts:

This church was on our list to visit for some time and today God directed us here. We were warmly welcomed from the door and many stopped by in the pew. The real welcome was the smile of a young girl as she danced around the sanctuary.

There was a great harmony between the pastor on guitar and the female lead singer. I found it a challenge to follow the words as we sang as there was much repetition and I got lost easily although she did try to lead us to what was next.

I enjoyed the banners and was happy to see a large cross behind the projection screen.

The message was part of a series on rebuilding His church, and today focused on discipleship. The pastor raised a thought that has gotten me in the past: “Is this what God wants or what I think God wants?”

I had a large garden and sent tons of produce to local food banks, then one year I felt God calling me to stop. Since most of the garden was hillside and it was killing me, it should have been easy to obey. But I believed I was doing this good stuff for God and put in a garden anyhow, a little smaller maybe. The next year I planted peas and started buying seeds, then I heard clearly, “I meant that!” His peace washed over me when I obeyed and that part of the property is now mostly grass.

Another statement I liked – when you are caught in the flesh – “just stop it.” When He calls you, “just do it!”

Jan’s thoughts:

This church has been on our list for approximately four years, and today seemed like the day to visit. We were greeted even before entering the building and welcomed warmly and often. The building is modest, neat, and clean, with some striking banners on the side walls.

The volume of the music was perfect, with the pastor playing the guitar, his wife on the keyboard, and a single vocalist. The voices blended beautifully.

If the message had a title, I think it would have been “Believer’s Choice.” The pastor spoke of the church’s emphasis on discipleship, then defined the term as “learning how to live in relationship with our God, Who loves us.”

He stated that Christians have a choice to live either according to the flesh or to be led by the Spirit. However, living in the Spirit is not a one-time event but an ongoing process of learning to depend on God alone.

He spoke of putting to death the deeds of the flesh through the Spirit, and that we “can’t cast out what must be crucified,” which I thought was very well put.

He asked an excellent question: are you who God wants you to be, doing what He wants you to do where He wants you to be doing it?

There was enough food for thought in this message to munch on for some time.

We appreciated the kind invitations to join the congregation for lunch which would be followed by a baptism, but we had to decline.

Our prayer for this church:

Lord, Your church is preparing to grow where You planted them. Fertilize the fields of their hearts and help them grow in their love for You. Amen.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Calvin Presbyterian Church

Yesterday we worshiped at Calvin Presbyterian Church, 415 E. Grandview Avenue, Zelienople, PA 16063, 724.452.7560, Rev. Doug Gebhard, Interim Senior Pastor.

Scripture – 1 Kings 19:4-8 NKJV

But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he prayed that he might die, and said, “It is enough! Now, LORD, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!”

Then as he lay and slept under a broom tree, suddenly an angel touched him, and said to him, “Arise and eat.” Then he looked, and there by his head was a cake baked on coals, and a jar of water. So he ate and drank, and lay down again. And the angel of the LORD came back the second time, and touched him, and said, “Arise and eat, because the journey is too great for you.” So he arose, and ate and drank; and he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights as far as Horeb, the mountain of God.

Bob’s thoughts:

We heard about the service in Fred Rogers’ honor and came to visit. It has been a good while since we last worshiped here and I forgot about their large carved cross. We were warmly welcomed by the Associate Pastor.

I don’t know if a bass is usually part of the praise band, but it sure was a highlight for a Fred Rogers service.

I worked for a while in the motion picture industry, and Fred’s film was one that we processed. He walked in one day when I was in the hallway, dirty and stained from the chemicals I was working around. Fred stopped to chat about what I did there, and surprisingly, said hello when he was on the way out with the owner of the company.

The pastor talked about being Christ-like to our neighbors, and how we don’t always see the angels that help and guide us.

At our old family church, when Christ first called me, I talked to the young children (my favorite people) about angels. They said sure, and pointed to where the angels sat in the balcony, the one that had been removed 40 years before.

A highlight phrase: “Let some word that is heard be Yours.”

Communion was passed silently in the pews, but the pastors were served. I noticed a great innovation: the juice tray was labeled as to juice or wine.

We stayed for coffee after but everyone was busy talking to each other…maybe because there are two services.

Jan’s thoughts:

We knew it had been some time since we visited here (I learned it was five years ago), so when Bob came across an announcement that this service would be a tribute to Mr. Rogers, we decided to join them in worship.

This congregation is in the midst of an interim period, which they appear to be excited about and using to full advantage, which I find refreshing. Some of that may have to do with the stability provided by the continued presence of the Associate Pastor, Connie Frierson.

We were welcomed by several people sitting nearby, and the first time a song was sung from the hymnal, the gentleman next to us handed me the hymnal with the correct page bookmarked.

I expected traditional music, so was pleasantly surprised by the enthusiasm of the contemporary musicians. The musical selections included pieces by Loudon Wainwright III (“Hank and Fred”), Fred Rogers (“It’s You I Like”, “It’s Such a Good Feeling”, and “I Like You As You Are”) and Bob Dylan (Man Gave Names To All The Animals”), so the advance notice that this service would be “different” was spot on.

The sermon was offered by the Interim Senior Pastor and entitled “Helpers”, in reference to the quote from Fred Rogers: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ ”

He began by telling a bit about his personal friendship with Mr. Rogers, also a Presbyterian minister. He spoke of “helping” angels in Scripture, particularly the ones that helped Elijah. And when he pointed out that the angel ministered to Elijah not once, but twice, he emphasized that sometimes we humans need to hear a message more than once for it to “get through.” I can definitely identify.

He closed with the clip of Fred Rogers’ acceptance speech when he received the Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997. It’s pure Fred Rogers, and if you’ve not seen it, it’s worth watching on YouTube.

In his closing prayer, he included a phrase he learned from Fred: “Let some word that is heard be Yours.” In my opinion, that should always be the prayer of a preacher—indeed, anyone seeking to influence others, whatever the venue.

I was pleased we could participate in Communion as well as stay for coffee afterward.

Our prayer for this church:

Lord, please bless this congregation’s efforts to grow Your church and encourage them to be “angels” in Your name. Amen.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Random Thoughts on Hospitality

What is a welcome gift and at what point do you present it to a visitor? What is the intended purpose of the gift? Is it to introduce visitors to your church and facility or simply to acknowledge the visitors’ presence?

What kinds of items are included? A floorplan of the facility is immensely useful if given before the service but less so if the visitor is on their way out the door. Information on the church’s beliefs and programs, missions supported, contact list for questions are all helpful means for a visitor to determine their level of interest.

Do you put things in your welcome bag that are inconvenient for the visitor to hold during the service such as bulky, breakable cups or glasses? Gauging the visitor is helpful: if they have children in tow, perhaps offer a coloring packet.

Is the preacher identified? Is there a coffee/snack time to which the visitor can be invited? This can be a valuable opportunity for both the church and the visitor.

Other gifts that can be marks of hospitality are homemade breads that can be kept in the fridge or frozen till needed. A personal note on the item and dietary concerns related to ingredients is a very good idea. I’ve never had anyone turn down homemade…I loved to send soup home with a visitor who couldn’t stay for lunch. If there is a deli-type lunch area, free tickets or free coffee are hospitable.

Most visitors don’t like the spotlight but are usually open to being greeted. Pass the word, just not from the pulpit. I’d suggest you say “We welcome our visitors,” no matter how obvious their identity may be, without putting them on the spot.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Zion United Methodist Church

Today we worshiped at Zion United Methodist Church, 438 Bear Creek Road, Sarver, PA 16055, 724.353.1720,, Rev. Robert H. Wilson, Pastor.

Scripture –

Psalm 51:1-17 NIV –

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice.

Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways, so that sinners will turn back to you. Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, you who are God my Savior, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.

Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise.

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.

Ephesians 4:1-16 The Message –

In light of all this, here’s what I want you to do. While I’m locked up here, a prisoner for the Master, I want you to get out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts, but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.

You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly. You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all, and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness.

But that doesn’t mean you should all look and speak and act the same. Out of the generosity of Christ, each of us is given his own gift. The text for this is, He climbed the high mountain, He captured the enemy and seized the booty, He handed it all out in gifts to the people. Is it not true that the One who climbed up also climbed down, down to the valley of earth? And the One who climbed down is the One who climbed back up, up to highest heaven. He handed out gifts above and below, filled heaven with his gifts, filled earth with his gifts. He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ.

No prolonged infancies among us, please. We’ll not tolerate babes in the woods, small children who are an easy mark for impostors. God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love—like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.

Bob’s thoughts:

The church has monitors on the side walls so people farther back can still see, and I did find a cross, so I was happy.

A little girl completely changed my perspective of the friendliness of the church when she walked by and stopped, smiled, and waved. How delightful!

The pastor referred to how God is fine tuning us as we are called to equip others. I guess the question is, how willing are we to accept this fine tuning?

Most of my work has been in construction. I might have argued with architects and engineers, but I never tried to redirect the electrician to finish the plumber’s work or any other tradesman to do a different job. We worked together to complete the project. Do we do this in church? Or do we hold tightly to a particular service only because we have “always” done this job? We need to lose our ego in church and let God use us where and when He wants.

At my last regular job, I supervised about 100 people in various fields. On reflection, I realize I could have been a better boss had I questioned who aspired to be more than they were and who may have been a better fit for a particular job.

I remember a woman in church who was shunned from every place she tried to serve. I asked her if she would maintain the pencil racks in the pews. She loved it, was outstanding in the attention she paid to it, and best of all, she became part of the church she served. She had ownership with that job. The lack of ego let her be happy to serve Christ and she went on to serve in other ways.

Jan’s thoughts:

As we pulled into the parking lot, we were taken aback to see building materials, equipment, and a sizable project well underway as there was no indication of this on the website. Following worship, the pastor was kind enough to take time to explain the intended purposes of this new space. It is planned to be in addition to the existing building and to be used as space for outreach to the community and surrounding areas for a variety of purposes.

As worship time was close when we arrived, we located restrooms with the help of the prominent signage, then found seats in the sanctuary.

The large sanctuary is modern-looking with brightly stained-glass windows lining the walls. In lieu of the usual single projection screen in the front, two sets of monitors are well spaced down each side. It was easy to read the rear-most monitor from where we sat almost all the way back.

I was surprised when a few people pinpointed us as visitors, since this is a multi-service church.

The sermon was entitled “Finely Tuned,” referring to the joy when things work properly, be it a piece of machinery or a group of people, such as the church. He said when it is the church, members need to be humble, grateful, and gentle while speaking the truth in love. It is necessary to stay focused on Christ and lose our pride and ego.

I think, ideally, we should all try to exhibit these characteristics every day, no matter who we work with. It’s a virtuous and challenging goal.

Our prayer for this church:

Father, we pray Your blessing on this, Your church as they move forward in working to show Your love and care to those outside their walls. Show Your power and bless their work in mighty and surprising ways. Amen.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Glenwillard United Methodist Church

Today we worshiped at Glenwillard United Methodist Church, 1328 Main Street, Crescent Township, PA 15046, 724.457.6325,, Rev. Thomas W. Fodor, Pastor.

Scripture – NIV

Psalm 23 –

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Galatians 2:1-20 –

Then after fourteen years, I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. I went in response to a revelation and, meeting privately with those esteemed as leaders, I presented to them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. I wanted to be sure I was not running and had not been running my race in vain. Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you.

As for those who were held in high esteem—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not show favoritism—they added nothing to my message. On the contrary, they recognized that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised. For God, who was at work in Peter as an apostle to the circumcised, was also at work in me as an apostle to the Gentiles. James, Cephas and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.

When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?

“We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.

“But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinners, doesn’t that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a lawbreaker.

“For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

John 1:16 –

Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given.

2 Corinthians 13:14 –

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

Bob’s thoughts:

Today marks 12 years since my younger son was killed. He was on his way home from North Carolina when he was killed on the highway. Mourning my son and Marine brother, I thought it would be reassuring to be amongst brothers in worship. This church had a Marine pastor plus a few Marines in the congregation. We were surprised to learn the pastor had taken a job in Nashville and I was no longer sure which members were brothers. We were welcomed by a number of people and some who remembered us from previous visits.

Part of the children’s message wove around a lost earring which brought back memories of a lost tiny necklace and God’s divine orchestration to have the right people to find the right parts.

The pastor talked of things that we consider amazing and a couple recent ones came to mind. I have some mocking birds this year, and to hear so many different bird songs from the same bird. And there have been a number of videos lately of people seeing color for the first time or a baby hearing mom’s voice for the first time. We miss so many of God’s blessings because we just don’t take notice.

In closing he mentioned being referred to as a Holy Roller. My claim to fame was being called a “Jesus Jerk” and later in life leading them both to Christ.

Jan’s thoughts:

It’s been a challenging week leading up to today, the 12th anniversary of the death of our son, so we wanted to go where we knew there would be members of our Marine family. The pastor who had been serving this church was also a Marine, but we discovered he has moved on since our last visit. We were happy to see our other friends, of course, Marine or not.

The church building is just as I recall and the people just as caring toward each other before, during, and after worship. Many greeted us warmly.

The basis of the message, “Amazing Grace,” was that Jesus paid the price for all sins, we are all justified by faith alone, that salvation cannot be earned, and we need to trust God and be patient. All spot-on.

Our prayer for this church:

Father, we pray for Your Presence with Your church as they move into the future with You. Amen.