Pulpit Notes: Save Us from Fear

Of what are you afraid? What fears keep your heart and mind blocked from a loving and personal relationship with God?

For this and everything, let us turn to God in prayer.

Arise, O Lord, and save us. Assist us in casting off every fear that would hold us back from effective discipleship and a personal relationship with You. If the field erupts in battle today, grant us the courage to not shirk our duty nor avoid the conflict; for, in the midst of affliction, the most able leaders rise. We pray for inner strength to defeat the fears that imprison us. Purify our thoughts like precious metal. Test our hearts and make us strong; gather our wits and grant us confidence of character, not based upon our own wisdom, but upon humble dependence on Your promise that You will not abandon us or fail us. Arise, O Lord, and save us, not from conflict — in the world, or in our own souls — but from the fear that mangles and destroys our hope and our faith. In Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Conrad

Reverend Dr. Conrad C. Sharps
Senior Pastor

Pulpit Notes: Morning Prayer

As the light grows into day, O God, I pray for spiritual understanding.

In a rhythm as mysterious as the dawn of time, I witness the power of darkness acquiesce to the light of day. It bestows courage that we might have faith in You and in Your tender mercies. Invade our lives as light, O God, and drive the darkness of fear and doubt back into the night. Our days are numbered, but they are not lost in Your eternal plan, for each day brings the opportunity to bask in Your glory through work and play and worship. Though darkness resides in the rhythm of every human life, the light of Your day is promised. Let me rise, then, and pray, in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Conrad

Reverend Dr. Conrad C. Sharps
Senior Pastor

Nancy Shaytar: Forty Years of Faithful Service

Nancy Shaytar, Director of Finance
Nancy Shaytar, Director of Finance

This summer, the Finance Office of Shadyside Presbyterian Church begins a major transition as Nancy Shaytar concludes her forty years of service as the Director of Finance. For months, the Human Resources Committee has worked diligently through a search sub-committee to identify the candidate who is most qualified and best suited to follow Nancy, and we anticipate being able to make a hiring announcement in the near future. To ensure a smooth transition, Nancy will help to train her successor during an orientation period.

We offer our heartfelt thanks to the Lord for Nancy’s faithful service among us, and we rejoice with her in the new opportunities that lie ahead. Please join us in praying for God’s blessings upon her, and plan to join us on Sunday, September 10, as we recognize Nancy’s ministry during the service of worship, with an opportunity for individual congregation members to express their appreciation to her during the potluck picnic following worship.

In a historical document prepared for the occasion of the church’s 125th anniversary, the Reverend Dr. F. Morgan Roberts mentioned “the organization and stability which our church operation has enjoyed because of the thoroughness and integrity of the many services rendered by Nancy Shaytar.” As true as those words were when they were written in 1991, they are even more so now, with the passage of more than twenty-five years in the life of this church.

Joining the church staff in 1977, as Assistant Treasurer under the Reverend Dr. Robert Cleveland Holland, Nancy became known to almost every member of the church as a friend and trusted guardian of the church’s finances. Following the departure of the church’s previous business administrator in 1986, without change of title, she became Dr. Roberts’ closest colleague in giving administrative attention and advice in almost every department of the church’s life. Because of her personal acquaintance with so many members, she was virtually a pastoral associate in matters of management and finance. Recognizing the breadth of her talents and services, she received the title of Financial Administrator in January 1989, and later assumed the role of Director of Finance, a position which she has held for more than two decades.

Nancy is quick to credit her professional longevity to the Lord. Through five senior pastorates and multiple capital campaigns, she has remained wholeheartedly motivated by God and a love of the church. Her prudent guidance in the church’s finances has been not only informed by sound fiscal principles, but also inspired by a strong spiritual sense. “Members of the various boards have always been helpful and supportive,” she adds, “and the congregation has always been responsible in their giving.”

Nancy also remembers with gratitude the kindness and support of the Shadyside Presbyterian Church family, particularly during her husband’s recovery from a serious automobile accident in the early years of her tenure. “I will always cherish the relationships and friendships I have enjoyed with both the staff and the congregation throughout the time of my employment,” she says.

Over the past four decades, Nancy has been numbered among the church’s most trusted staff members. God has blessed us incalculably through her careful stewardship, which has served the church well in innumerable ways, both known and unknown.

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”

Colossians 3:17

“Nancy Shaytar has been the embodiment of this Scripture,” says the Reverend Dr. Conrad C. Sharps. “From the moment of my arrival, it became apparent that Nancy was far more than our Director of Finance; she was part of the heartbeat of Shadyside Presbyterian Church,” he observes.

“Her years of dedication have demonstrated not only the highest degree of professionalism, but also have extended into the realm of personal relationships and care. The members of this church have entrusted Nancy with their personal commitments to our Lord and to our beloved church as well as their personal stories,” continues Dr. Sharps. “We offer Nancy our deepest gratitude and devotion for her ministry among us these many years!”

Pulpit Notes: Time — The Gift of Our Presence

I read a story about an unusual crime that took place years ago. Apparently some juvenile delinquents gained entrance to a large department store late one night, and, rather than steal any items, they methodically went about changing price tags. For instance, they took the price tag from a pair of men’s socks and exchanged it with a diamond ring. At first, their crime might seem humorous, but they were so thorough in the number of price-tag exchanges they made that the store had to close the entire next day — at tremendous cost to the owners — to restore the tags to the proper items.

This crime does, however, make me wonder how our culture also assigns the wrong values to many things. I was reminded of a line in a song by the musician David LaMotte. His song “Deadline” contains the lyric, “There’s no time like the present, and no present like time.”

Time is a precious gift of God, and so often in our lives I fear we misjudge its true value. If you ask any mature young adult what the most precious thing his or her parents ever gave him or her, and I bet they probably will tell you, “Time.”

How true this is in other important human relationships as well. I may have many responsibilities as a pastor: preaching, teaching, moderating meetings, administration, and counseling, but one responsibility that never fades is that of pastoral care. Of course, this is not only true for pastors.

People need time. It is the most precious gift — given in the form of our presence — that we give others to show how much we care. Today, think about time. Time is one of the most precious gifts God has given us. There are many things that we must accomplish in our lives, but we must remember that time is a limited resource. Ask yourself, “How will I invest my time this week?”

May God grant you the insight to understand the value of your time and your life.

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace. What gain have the workers from their toil? I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. He has made everything suitable for its time … .” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-11a)

Soli Deo Gloria,
Conrad

Reverend Dr. Conrad C. Sharps
Senior Pastor

Pulpit Notes: Prayer for Illumination

The great French theologian John Calvin believed that one of the essential elements of worship was the “Prayer for Illumination,” offered immediately before the Scripture was read and proclaimed. He recognized that the reading and understanding of Scripture must come through prayer and humble submission to the revelation of the Holy Spirit.

We must open ourselves in prayer to discern the meaning of Scripture, but this first requires the opening of the Scriptures! It is impractical — if not impossible — to gain biblical insight for the issues of our day if we are not willing to devote time and reflection to the daily reading of Scripture. We can participate in all the studies we desire, but, until we live in God’s Word and make Scripture the primary point of reference in our lives, it is doubtful we will grow in our biblical understanding. Scripture only becomes the authoritative Word of God when we open ourselves to the revelation and guidance of the Holy Spirit. Faithful interpretation and humble submission to the Spirit are required if Scripture is to become God’s living, “authoritative” Word for our lives.

If I have anything to offer someone — especially those who are in need, confused, hurting, lonely, oppressed, or abused — it is the Gospel. Only the Gospel can give meaning, purpose, and direction to humanity. It is not I but Christ who makes the difference. But without honest effort, devotion, and reflection toward discerning God’s Word, all my efforts remain just that: mine. And this is not very effective in the long run. Only when God’s Word becomes central in my life — when I read and prayerfully reflect upon Scripture every day — can I begin to discern the leading of the Holy Spirit. Then and only then can my actions begin to reflect Jesus Christ and His redemptive mercy in the world.

The Psalmist wrote: “Oh, how I love Your law! I meditate on it all day long. How sweet are Your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! I gain understanding from Your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path. Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.”  (Psalm 119:97, 103-105)

May we have the strength, insight, will and courage to devote ourselves to God’s redemptive Word today, as the Spirit of Jesus Christ leads us.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Conrad

Reverend Dr. Conrad C. Sharps
Senior Pastor

Sojourner House Recognizes Volunteers

Pearl of Hope Honoree Ann Brooks with her son, Gordon Mann
Ann Brooks with her son Gordon Mann during Sojourner House’s 13th Annual Victorian Tea at Pittsburgh’s Grand Hall at the Priory

On Friday, June 9, Shadyside Presbyterian Church’s 24th Annual Strawberry Festival was held in partnership with Sojourner House, and the proceeds from the event supported the Sojourner House MOMS program. Earlier this spring, Sojourner House held its annual volunteer recognition event on April 12 to thank all of the volunteers who have given of their time, effort, and compassion so generously.

Also, on April 23, during Sojourner House’s 13th Annual Victorian Tea at Pittsburgh’s Grand Hall at the Priory, Ann Brooks was honored with the Pearl of Hope Award. Given each year at this “friend-raiser” event, the award recognizes a volunteer who has made a difference in the lives of Sojourner House families. For the past seven years, Ann has been directly providing our mission partner’s mothers and children with basic needs, such as clothing, shoes, and coats. She also organizes a monthly Bingo game and brings prizes and good cheer for the families. Below, Ann relates how she came to volunteer with Sojourner House and the family influences who inspired her to share her time joyfully.

Pearl of Hope Honoree Ann Brooks
Pearl of Hope Honoree Ann Brooks

Volunteering is a strong calling for me, instilled by my parents and my grandmother. We didn’t know the phrase “paying it forward,” but that’s what I witnessed growing up. My mom threw herself into church activities, PTA, community improvements, even a brief flirtation with politics. My father avoided anything that might involve “another stupid meeting,” but he was the man everyone turned to when they needed a ride to the grocery store, lawn mower repairs, Christmas trees for the senior center.

 

Raising a son who is a risk-taker, watching my husband struggle to stop smoking, dealing with my own occasional bouts of gloominess; I think these experiences are the reason I became interested in the women working through the journey that is Sojourner House. Their decision to change their lives, to protect and nurture their children is wonderful, but I think the process must be terrifying as well. I wanted to help them succeed but couldn’t think of anything that wouldn’t backfire, perhaps make things worse (e.g., my poorly executed craft projects)!

 

When I told my daughter Evelyn about my dilemma, she said, “Mum, you’re good at finding bargains. Go and shop.”

 

I did shop — a lot. I found baby clothes, kitchen wares, miscellaneous seemingly unusable super-bargains. That’s when Evelyn came up with her second brainstorm. She recalled when we played “Bingo for Books” at Pittsburgh elementary schools, suggesting we try it at Sojourner House and use the accumulating gewgaws for prizes. Bingo has been a delight, a chance for moms and children to play together and act a little silly.

 

Back to my Grandma Drake, whom I loved with all my heart. She was a bit of a Calvinist and used to warn me that if I enjoyed something too much it “wouldn’t count.” I’d laugh, ask her why it mattered if it counted, counted for what? I still don’t have answers, but Grammy, I am enjoying it!

Ann Brooks

Pulpit Notes: A Prayer in Preparation for Communion

O God, in times of trouble, You are our shelter and our strength.

When we shrink in fear, when the earth shakes in violence and conflict, You offer peace. When we hunger for nourishment and cry out for what the world can never provide, nor human endeavor produce, You offer the bread of life and the cup of salvation that satiates our every need. We recognize in the act of communion, with You and neighbor, the mystery of the incarnation that compels us to enter the world to be broken, to be poured, to become the body and sacrificial presence of Christ, that all may come to faith in Him.  Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Conrad

Reverend Dr. Conrad C. Sharps
Senior Pastor

Pulpit Notes: Said by God to Each of Us

One of the authors I enjoy reading is Karl Barth, often considered one the greatest Protestant theologians of the last century.

The following passage is a portion of one of his writings, “Saved by Grace.”

Someone once said to me, “I need not go to church. I need not read the Bible. I know already what the church teaches and what the Bible says: ‘Do what is right and fear no one!’ ” Let me say this at this point: if this were the message at stake, I would most certainly not have come here. My time is too precious and so is yours. To say that, neither prophets nor apostles, neither Bible, Jesus Christ nor God are needed. Anybody is at liberty to say this to himself. By the same token this saying is void of any new, of any very special and exciting message. It does not help anyone. I have never seen a smile on the face of a person reassuring himself with this kind of talk. … Let us hear therefore what the Bible says and what we as Christians are called to hear together:  “By grace you have been saved!”

No man can say this to himself. Neither can he say it to someone else. This can only be said by God to each one of us. It takes Jesus Christ to make this saying true … .

Karl Barth

In times of great anxiety, in times of need, or indeed at any time, we all can be reassured by God’s words to us: “By grace you have been saved!”

Let us pray.

Living God, what can help us to know, understand, and receive Your mercy but grace alone? Your mysteries extend from the deepest points in our souls to the farthest constellations, and yet we know and affirm that we matter to You, for we are children of God for whom Christ died and for whom Christ arose. This is Your mystery of love and mercy fulfilled. O God, call us out to greet Christ Jesus, our Lord, so that with our eyes and hearts focused only on Him, we may follow to the light eternal.  Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Conrad

Reverend Dr. Conrad C. Sharps
Senior Pastor

Pulpit Notes: Prayer for Love

Jesus, let me make love my aim; help me to focus not simply upon doctrine, but upon the purpose of all Christian doctrine: faith, hope, and love — the greatest being love.

Though my life may seem quite ordinary, assist me to live it extraordinarily well — as one who loves as Christ first loved us. If perfection is at all obtainable, Lord, I believe it is in perfect love which empowers one even to foolish, wholehearted abandonment of self for the good of others — the turning of the creeds I profess into deeds that exhibit your sovereign love and mercy. This is my bold prayer, the doctrine upon which I will build my day: to make love my aim.  Amen.

Soli Deo Gloria,
Conrad

Reverend Dr. Conrad C. Sharps
Senior Pastor

Pulpit Notes: Communicating Without Words

The 911 emergency system is amazing. When 911 is dialed, a person is connected with a dispatcher who sees on a screen the exact location of the phone from which the caller is dialing, the name of the telephone listing, and the closest police, fire department, and paramedic units.

This is important because a caller might not be able to communicate the problem. Someone might be having a heart attack, or be so hysterical over the needs of a loved one that he or she cannot communicate effectively. The wonder of 911 technology, however, is that, to send help, the dispatcher does not need the dialer to say anything.

In life, we all face times of uncertainty and distress. Sometimes, in desperation, we are unable to even put our thoughts into words. At times like this, we should rejoice, for God in the person of the Holy Spirit already knows our circumstance and our need. Even though we might not be able to speak, or do not know the right words to say, we are assured in Scripture that the Spirit will intercede on our behalf.

Even if you cannot verbalize your need today, approach God in prayer, confident of the Spirit’s ability and desire to intercede. God stands ready to help.

“In the same way the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but that very Spirit intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And God, who searches our hearts, knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.”  (Romans 8:26-27)

Soli Deo Gloria,
Conrad

Reverend Dr. Conrad C. Sharps
Senior Pastor