Sunday, February 11, 2018
Today we worshiped at Bridgewater Presbyterian Church, 408 Bridge Street, Bridgewater, PA 15009, 724.774.1454, www.bridgewaterpresby.com, Dr. William H. Silver, Pastor.
Scripture – 1 Peter 5 NASB
Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.
Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you. Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen.
Through Silvanus, our faithful brother (for so I regard him ), I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it! She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you greetings, and so does my son, Mark. Greet one another with a kiss of love.
Peace be to you all who are in Christ.
We were a little early and took seats in the back, as is our custom. Most of those coming in stopped to greet us or said hello from where they were, and many came later to extend Christ’s peace. Enjoyed the conversations and the great back scratch.
The wide pew spacing was comfortable as I could stretch out my leg when my knee acted up. A nice wooden cross got my attention.
The sermon, “What Do We Do With the Grace of God?” was part of a series and talked about how do we share our wealth in Christ by lifting others up.
As a Marine, the admonishment to be not proud, be humble, was a hard place to get to, and I still struggle at times. The similarity that as Christians we have brothers all over the world who are going through the same things we are, or have, or will be. Much like the Marines, we encourage each other and help or guide each other through.
When we were here last, I remembered the church collected canceled stamps for a fundraiser, so when I saw a bag of them I had saved, this seemed like a good place to visit. Plus, knowing the pastor is a Marine I thought we could share some of our experiences. It seems like God used that to get us here as they no longer collect stamps and the pastor and church were celebrating the 100th birthday of a member and elder and we didn’t want to steal time to talk. I was glad to share a few words and maybe talk more when we meet again.
We arrived while Sunday school was still in session, so after wandering just a bit, we found seats and as members began filtering in, each welcomed us on their way past. We were warmly welcomed before, during, and after worship by a number of people as well as being invited to attend the luncheon in honor of the 100th birthday of a member.
We recognized some people, but our last visit was six years ago so much has changed in this very traditional church. One major change is that the church is now part of the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians.
At one point there seemed to be some miscommunication about the next hymn, and I was impressed with the flexibility of the organist and soloist.
“What Do We Do With the Grace of God?” was the message title, and the focus was on suffering. No one wants to experience suffering, but it is how we learn discipline, direction, and strength. God uses our pain to refine and mold us. The pastor reminded his listeners that “powerful stuff comes from the suffering God allows.” I am in complete agreement.
The pastor encouraged his flock to share their painful experiences with others to help them overcome and find meaning in their suffering. He delved into some of God’s gifts, mentioning peace, grace, mercy, and opportunity. He stated that failure is not an excuse to give up, but an opportunity to forsake pride and move forward.
Suffering is not a popular topic in the churches we’ve attended, but I believe more people should hear these words. So many seem to think life should be easy and free of challenge. I don’t personally know anyone who lives that sort of life, believer or otherwise, so we really need to make peace with suffering and believe God has a good purpose for our pain.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, You have blessed this church with a much-needed parking area, and we pray You will bring people to them and fill Your church. Amen.
Sunday, February 4, 2018
Today we worshiped at Oak Grove Lutheran Church, 432 Harkins Mill Road, Zelienople, PA 16063, 724.774.6410, www.oakgrovelc.org, Nathaneil Christman, Pastor.
Scripture – John 4:1-42 NIV
Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John— although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.
Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.
When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
“I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”
Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”
Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” They came out of the town and made their way toward him.
Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”
But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”
Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”
“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”
Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers.
They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”
I pass this church often and had a feeling God was leading us here…today was the day.
The sanctuary is pleasant with a dark wood paneled arched ceiling. There is a slight alcove to the rear chancel wall displaying a round stained glass window which seems to amplify the cross on the Communion table below. I also appreciated the signage.
The Scripture for the message was Christ at the well with the Samaritan woman. It is probably lost on most of us what an outlandish thing this was at this time. The pastor related how this was mission outreach, evangelism, and relationship-building.
I was reminded of a biker church we visited in Ohio once. They told me that part of the reasoning behind worshiping on Saturday evening is they were free to visit other churches on Sunday but they were also free to go into the bars to witness to those who did not know they needed Jesus. They were doing what we are all called to do: tell our story. As much as I sort of joke about how much fun it was to bring people to Christ by force, I have had better results by sharing my story of how He claimed me.
This was one of the most accommodating churches for Communion: grape juice and gluten-free wafers were also provided. The elements were offered verbally and I was pleased to see the pastor served at the end.
I met a Marine during the passing of Christ’s Peace, which is always a joy.
There were a number of cute children, including a most entertaining boy and girl a few rows ahead. I enjoyed the voice of the young female who led the singing.
We were thankful for the time the pastor took to talk with us after the service and grateful for the discernment the congregation seeks for what God has in mind for His church.
We were greeted warmly and regularly throughout the service and afterward. Upon entering we were immediately handed a presentation folder containing the order of worship, the list of hymns and in which book to find them, the Scripture reading, and the announcements. This was a unique format for this information.
The atmosphere is traditional with lovely stained glass and dark wood, including the ceiling.
Much attention was paid to the children, for whom there were special programs and who also took part in the service by ringing the bell in the tower.
The sole musical instrument was an organ and hymns were led by a solo voice, which was beautiful and enough. The hymns varied from the traditional (“I Know That My Redeemer Lives”) to the Children’s Message (“The B-I-B-L-E”) to the closing hymn (“Soon and Very Soon”).
The pastor pointed out in this untitled sermon that although Jews specifically avoided Samaria, Jesus specifically did not avoid it, He went right through the center of that land. He made direct contact with the Samaritan woman, who had been cast aside and left behind. But she then became an evangelist when she took her story to the rest of the town, asking her question “Could this be the Messiah?” Many came to believe in Him as a result of her outreach.
He stated that is what evangelism is, telling our story, sharing our personal experience, and asking questions that cause others to want to see for themselves and draw their own conclusions.
I was glad to be present for Communion and appreciated that grape juice was an option for the sacrament.
We also appreciated the conversation with the pastor following worship and hearing about the Community Garden that unites the congregation and provides outreach to the community for 3/4 of the year.
Our prayer for this church:
Lord, we pray Your church discerns Your guidance as to Your purpose and direction for them now. Lead them in their goal of obedience to Your call. Amen.