Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Trinity Listening Session Comment

I am unclear about the measures and indicators of these sessions that you are using to evaluate our readiness to vote, but I’d like to make these comments.

I have come to these sessions with a sense of peace on my heart that this is not a battle, but simply a fork in the road - the result of Trinity's long leadership in sharpening the congregation's spiritual maturity and clarity in a direction that is a departure from the PCUSA. I don’t see the issue going away for PCUSA. I remember talking about these very issues 15 years ago and we are still talking about them. The organizational culture which supports so much time and resource on these and other denomination-centric issues seems a disturbing distraction from what God calls us to be as a church.

That said, the experience of finding ourselves at this fork has been all very healthy, constructive, and positive. It seems to have ignited renewed energy, and sharpened us individually and collectively through deep dialogue and study to understand even more fully who we are as Christ-followers and as a church, what we believe, and what we expect of ourselves - as a body and of our leaders.

I understand that we have been one of Presbytery’s sheep and that for many – including many in this church, it may be difficult to think that we may leave PCUSA. But I look at it differently. If we truly believe we are all part of one church, then we must also believe that a change such as this is simply like moving to another address. We’ll still be brothers and sisters in Christ; still working in the church and through the church to grow God’s kingdom; still part of the Presbyterian family. We’ll just live somewhere else – a place where we feel we can grow and thrive as disciples and not distracted by dynamics that cause us to stay inside our house rather than going outside into the darkness to be the light, the church and the people God calls us to be.
The move won’t be easy and the new house might be a mess. But often a move reinvigorates and stretches us – to dust off the shelves and discard the stuff we hold onto, don’t use, or costs us to keep. We see a new home with fresh eyes that see where we need to make repairs. It stretches us to learn and become engaged in a new community, to reach out; and in having to share with others about ourselves, we rediscover who we are and our purpose.

I know this has been difficult, but I believe we are and will be better for the journey. I’d like to ask you to prayerfully deem our congregation ready to vote on recommending dismissal.

Sandi Scannelli

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Colossians 2:1-5 Devotional

For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, 2 that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God's mystery, which is Christ, 3 in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. 4 I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. 5 For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.

It is in Christ that we find all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. The plausible arguments, arguments that one might find reasonable, are ones that delude us from knowing God through Christ. In Christ are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Yet there are those who say Jesus was not messiah, not Christ. Jesus is a metaphor. Jesus is one with God, but so are we all. Arguments abound to shake our faith in Christ. Certainly there is room for flexibility in theological discourse, but our foundation, the firmness of our faith is in Christ. All else is sinking sand.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

"I hope you die" Orangewood High School Students

Orangewood Christian School

When I talked with Mr. Johnson about coming to speak at chapel, I was really excited to get a chance to have a good reason to come back and visit Orangewood. I mean there are other good reasons than doing a chapel, but I didn’t want to be like one of those seniors that graduates and keeps hanging around their old high school because they haven’t quiet let the place go. The truth is I still hold on to Orangewood in a lot of ways and my family and I are very appreciative of the way not only the adults were really supportive but also you as a students have been there for us as well. So I’m very excited to be here, and also excited to be here not as a teacher, but as a pastor, and to have a little more freedom than I did in the past when I worked for you. I mean I don’t want to offend anyone just to be offensive but I could go on a cursing rant here and I wouldn’t necessarily lose my job. I could say whatever I think and not have to deal with the parental fallout the next day. So I thought I’d take the opportunity to present something challenging from Scripture. It’s something that has been challenging in my life, which I hope to share some with you, and if you take your faith seriously then these claims that Scripture makes are pretty challenging to us all. So I’m preaching, I’m a preacher now, it’s what I do. I’m preaching from Romans 12:1-8, so let me read that to you:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

I’m really going to focus in on what the first part of this passage says which is: to present your bodies as a living sacrifice. Before I do, let me share with you my own witness, my own story if you will, about how I ended up here as a preacher, an ordained minister of Word and Sacrament if you will. It hasn’t always been this way with me. If you talked to my friends from high school, and especially if you talked to my friends in college, they might have trouble believing you if you told them I was a bible teacher at your high school, much less a pastor. In fact, when I was getting married a few of my college friends who were invited, took my fiancĂ© aside and talked to her to make sure she really knew who I was because she’s always been a Christian, and clearly I have not. I have not always been a Christian. I’ve always known about God, I’ve known the stories, I even explored the intricacies of free will and predestination before I was a Christian. I knew who Jesus was, I prayed to God, I asked for forgiveness of my sins and for help in my life but I wasn’t a Christian.

I didn’t really understand or realize this until two things happened. The first thing that happened was I taught environmental science and my eyes were opened to what a hypocrite I was. Before I taught environmental science, much of my knowledge about environmentalism, like most of my knowledge, came from television and movies. I knew I wasn’t supposed to throw trash on the highway or be wasteful but I never really realized how much of a toll the growing human population is taking on resources. I’m not trying to make any political statements, I know environmentalism has become very political, but really if we’re honest we are using the resources of the earth at an exponential rate and we haven’t been great stewards of God’s creation. Anyway, so I would go in and teach environmental science and talk about how we need to dispose of chemicals properly like cooking oil, or paint, or batteries, because if you just throw all that stuff out on the ground it sinks down and contaminates the aquifer and has a wide range effect on the environment compared to proper disposal. So I would teach that and then I’d go home to my apartment and cook a huge thing of French fries for dinner, I was a single guy and didn’t eat very well back then, and then, because I was lazy, would go outside and pour the oil right out on the ground instead of trying to find out the right way to get rid of it. Then the very next day I’d go back into class and teach about how bad this is for the environment. It wasn’t just this one incident either, as I went through the semester I found out basically that I am a complete and total hypocrite. The word hypocrite, by the way, at its base meaning means actor. I was a complete and total actor. I would get up in front of my class and act like environmentalism was important and then I’d go home and live my real life in a way that was the most convenient for me. At this point you may be wondering why this chapel is about environmental science. Well, the disparity between what I was saying and what I was doing eventually caused me to have some sit down and think moments about the way I was living my life. I was saying I believed that one thing was true, taking care of the earth is good, but then living my life in complete denial and I began to wonder if this was the only area in my life where I was being a hypocrite. I began to wonder if my faith, my belief in God wasn’t a complete sham, a complete act worthy of an Oscar just like my environmentalism.

So I took a little journey of the mind, and did some exploring to see what I really believed because if there was a God then that alone should have dramatic consequences for my life. My life should evidence in some way that this is my belief. I explored a lot, and did a lot of reading. I spent some time as a Buddhist but figured out that was basically impossible because every time I went swimming I spent the entire time rescuing bugs from the pool and one time when I returned to my apartment from spring break I picked up a towel and literally 1 million roaches fell out of it on my floor. That was the day I ceased being Buddhist and agreed that for my own health and those who lived in my apartment complex that it was ok to kill bugs. I mentioned earlier that there were 2 things that made me realize I wasn’t a Christian, the first was environmentalism, and the second was when during this time I read the bible.
I read the entire bible, cover to cover. I spent every afternoon reading, out in a pasture and as I read the bible I began to implement in my life the things I read. Which actually proved pretty difficult because I was implementing things as I read them, so as I read Genesis I was a vegetarian but when I got to Noah I began to eat meat, and I had to really hurry through the Old Testament so I could get back to eating bbq ribs and pork. I mean I knew that stuff was in the New Testament, but I was really deliberate about reading this as God’s Word and letting it change me, not taking anything for granted. I literally burned my life to the ground. Everything that was myself before I jettisoned, at least for a time because I finally recognized how screwed up and hypocritical, what an actor, I really was. I had been fooling myself for so long that I couldn’t afford to keep on doing life the way I had been doing it. When I say I burned it to the ground I mean, everything. My old self literally died. I didn’t watch TV, I didn’t do the things for recreation I used to do, I stopped talking to my old friends, I considered quitting my job, in fact I transitioned from teaching to just being a dorm parent. I got rid of all my stuff, my DVDs ,CDs, etc… and one night during all this my old self died. I told God I didn’t want to live for myself anymore, because I was living in a delusion and because I wanted to have a purpose, and I wanted to live for him. I became “a living sacrifice.” A sacrifice is when someone gives up something. Usually in the bible when we hear of a sacrifice it’s literally something dying. There are sacrifices in the Old Testament of goats and lambs. There is the time when Abraham is asked to sacrifice his son Isaac. Of course in the New Testament there is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ where he literally died for us. The passage we read says to present our bodies, and if you look at that word it doesn’t just mean your physical body, it means your whole self, present your whole self, everything you are as a living sacrifice. In other words, don’t kill yourself literally, but sacrifice your whole life to God, give over everything to God. Stop living for yourself, or for your family, or for your desires, and live completely and wholly for God.

This is the moment in the sermon, where I’m supposed to put in qualifiers. This is where I’m supposed to say “but it’s ok for you to go to the movies, and it’s ok for you to have a life outside of the church, and it’s ok for you to water down a little what the bible says to us.” I’ve heard chapel speakers before, I myself have even told some of you before, that what the world needs right now is Christian doctors, Christian musicians, Christian actors, Christian politicians, and so forth. In other words, you need to finish your time here at Orangewood, go to the best college you can get into, and then get into whatever profession you feel called to, and then figure out how God wants to use you in those professions. That’s not what I’m going to say today, and I know it’s dangerous at a school, a college preparatory school to say that the point isn’t to get an education, to go to college and get a job, but Orangewood, of all the schools I ever seen is different. The OCS mission statement is:
“The mission of Orangewood Christian School is to equip students to transform the world for Christ and His kingdom.” When I read the Bible, I don’t see Jesus telling his disciples, here’s how we’re going to change the world: go back home and send your kids to the best synagogues, the best Roman schools, and as they grow up they’ll be doctors and lawyers and politicians and they’ll change the world. No, Jesus says drop what you’re doing and go. He said “Behold all authority on heaven and earth has been given to me, GO therefore and make disciples of all nations: baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. Who did Jesus use? A bunch of fishermen. Nothing against fishermen but it doesn’t take 12 years of grade school, 4 years of partying in college, and a masters program to learn how to catch fish. And it doesn’t require that either for you to go and be fishers of men. Paul, the guy who wrote most of the New Testament, was very educated, a Pharisee, a lawyer, and what does he do? He is called by Jesus and he goes. He does some work on the side as a freakin tent maker. Could you imagine Paul’s mom? We sent you to school for so long, to be a Pharisee! To be a lawyer! And you’re out there roaming from town to town telling people about a guy named Jesus and making tents on the side, relying on others to give you places to sleep at night!? Here’s the thing, if we’re doing what we’ve been called to do, if we literally offer our lives as living sacrifices then there will be Christian doctors, Christian politicians, Christian actors, and so forth because as we preach the good news to the ends of the earth there will be adults, already in positions of influence whom God will call and use. I just read an article recently about a Victoria’s Secret model, this was on CNN by the way I wasn’t perusing my wife’s catalog, who decided that she couldn’t be a Victoria’s Secret model anymore because her faith in Christ had grown and she wanted to honor God. She’s going to continue to be a model, but in a different way, with the hopes of honoring God in the place she finds herself.

Here’s the thing for you all, you are in a unique situation and maybe this doesn’t apply to all of you, and for the few pagans that crept in through the door, I’m sorry, but most of you here are full fledged Christians. You’ve been raised in the faith. You’ve believed all your life and you have a unique opportunity. You’re being trained “to transform the world for Christ.” What does that mean? Jesus has called us to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth. He says “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you” and again “Go and make disciples of all nations”. We live in the age of the Church, and you, of all people are the Church, the body of Christ, and our Mission, the Mission of the Church is to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth. And I’m not talking about, I went to New York and fed homeless people and then went on a sight seeing tour type of mission. I’m talking about fulfilling the call to reach every tribe, nation, and language with the good news of Jesus Christ. Jesus said “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” In other words, the age we live in, is not one where we are to wait for Jesus, it’s one where we are to be sent as Jesus was to the ends of the earth. Who is to be sent? It’s YOU! It is my dream in life that at some point I will literally die for the gospel. That God will use me somehow to reach those peoples that have never heard the name of Jesus. That’s how much I believe and how much I want to be a living sacrifice, to the point that I lay down my life as my Lord and master did. I haven’t been called to that yet, because God called me when I was a teacher. And now I have a child and a wife.

Jesus tells a parable about seeds, I’m sure you’ve heard it. Mark 4:3-8, Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured it. 5 Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and immediately it sprang up, since it had no depth of soil. 6 And when the sun rose it was scorched, and since it had no root, it withered away. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. 8 And other seeds fell into good soil and produced grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold." Later in the chapter Jesus explains what each of these scenarios means. He says the “the ones sown on rocky ground [are] the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. 17 And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. 18 And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, 19 but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 20 But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold." I worry sometimes that I’m the seed sown among the thorns. That the cares and desires of this world are going to choke my wholesale living sacrifice to Jesus. You are at a unique point. You, who are Christ followers, you who believe. God is calling you not to be choked out by the concerns of this world, by the deceitfulness of riches and desires, he is calling you, as those trained in the Word you whole lives, to offer yourselves as a living sacrifice, to go the ends of the earth, the bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundred fold. My hope is that one of you will die for the good news. That you will take the opportunity and the call that so few others have and truly transform the world for Christ, not by politics or profession, but by wholesale abandonment of God, of becoming one sent to share the news of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth. I hope you die.

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Divinity of Christ - an essential

While many have been aware of issues within the PC(USA) for decades, some of us are new to the game. I was surprised recently when someone referred to the existence of those being ordained who did not affirm the singular saving lordship of Christ in the PC(USA) as rumor and gossip. So I did a brief search which yielded enough for me to say that this is not gossip but the truth as there are those that deny even the deity of Christ within the PC(USA) as ordained ministers. Of course there are many more such incidents not available via a simple google search, but again this was enough for me to not classify this information as gossip. I understand that on paper the PC(USA) does affirm the historical stance of the church, and many ministers are not outside these bounds, but let's be honest about the state of the denomination.

- “I believe that Jesus may have been historical but most of the stories about him in the Bible and elsewhere are legends. But he's cool. He serves as a human ideal and a focal point for devotion (like an ishta deva [,a concept from Hinduism])” (Source) (Rev. John Shuck, PCUSA pastor in Tennessee) Rev. Shuck also believes that Jesus did not die for our sins. (Source)

- "Again, I say that the language of religion is metaphor and myth. If everyone in the room understands that we are speaking in those ways, I am willing to expound the Christ myth passionately." (Source)(Rev. Dennis L. Maher, retired PC(USA) minister who would rather be a Unitarian Universalist - Source)

- In 1981, the highest court in the PCUSA upheld National Capital Union Presbytery’s decision to ordain Mansfield Kaseman. In answer to the question, “Was Jesus God?” Kaseman replied, “No, God is God.” Later, in an attempt to explain his position, he said, “Saying Jesus is one with God is a better way of saying it … but I, too, am one with God." (Source)

- There have been a few in the PC(USA) who have denied such basics as the deity of Christ. I heard one pastor do this very thing in a Presbytery meeting where he was involved in examining a candidate for ordination. This pastor was upset that the candidate has said so plainly that Jesus was God incarnate. At the time, I thought the examination was going in the wrong direction, and the candidate should have been examining the pastor! (Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts) (Source)

- In 1993, a conference entitled “Re-Imagining God” was funded by the PCUSA mission budget ($60,000) and planned largely by PCUSA personnel at denominational expense. Participants received tens of thousands of dollars worth of travel and registration expense reimbursements from the PCUSA mission budget. At the conference, “worship” leaders denied the existence of a transcendent God, worshipped “the god within ourselves,” and exchanged the goddess “Sophia” for Jesus Christ, declaring that Jesus “was first born only in the sense that he was first to show us that it is possible to live in oneness with the divine source while we are here on this planet. (Source)

Isolationism doesn't work in a Presbyterian Church

Any Presbyterian church, by definition, is a connectional church. The word Presbyterian refers to the polity, or form of government by which churches subscribe which consists of elders, or presbuteros. As Michael Jinkins says "The New Testament understands the church as a spiritually organic reality. The relationship between Jesus and his disciples is not just that between a charismatic leader and his followers or a gifted teacher and his students, but is (according to John’s Gospel) like that between a vine and its branches and (according to Paul) like that between a human body and its head." So the PC(USA) as a presbyterian church has sessions that rule local churches, made up of both teaching elders (pastors) and ruling elders. Representatives from sessions are sent to local governing bodies called presbyteries, and representatives from presbyteries are sent to the highest governing body called the General Assembly. We are deeply connected. The map above shows that the PC(USA) is a nationally connected church.

As the PC(USA) even says on its own website under "Who are we?" Presbyterian 101 - "The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is distinctly a confessional and a connectional church, distinguished by the representation of elders — laymen and laywomen — in its government... We do mission and its related functions in “good Presbyterian order” through the structures of our General Assembly, synods, presbyteries and local churches, which provide accountability in a connectional system."

That's why it's incredible to me when local presbyteries or churches try to make a case that they can remain independent and separate despite General Assembly decisions. We talk so highly about our connectional system and its accountability when we are in agreement. Lately, in light of controversial decisions of the connectional denominational decisions, some have tried to argue that they can have their own standards, their own "rules", their own interpretations that goes against the General Assembly rulings and interpretations. These aspirations, while noble, are just that and completely fly in the face of our connectional system.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:15-16: "If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body." I would also say, that if a hand disagrees with the head, that doesn't make it any less part of the body. We need to come to grips with the decisions that our denomination as a whole has made rather than denying the reality of our Presbyterian system. It's only a matter of time before the rest of the body brings the "hold outs" into line.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Questions about Predestination?

1. If predestined, why is there a need for judgment?

First let me address why there is a need for judgment, biblically, and then I’ll address how predestination plays into this. We, the human race, are to be judged because we are sinners on two accounts. First we are sinners because of our actions, but our actions are predicated on who we are by our natures. So secondly, we are sinners because we are a “fallen race” due to the decisions of our parents, namely Adam and Eve. Reformed Theology teaches that Adam and Eve had “free will” but we do not. The Westminster Confession of Faith says that “Man, in his state of innocency [Adam and Eve], had freedom and power to will and to do that which is good and well-pleasing to God.” In other words Adam was able to sin (which he did) but also was able to not sin (which he didn’t). Now, because Adam chose to sin, he and his descendants (us) “wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation…dead in sin.” So all of humanity is fallen, broken, in slavery to sin, and dead in sin. We are all deserving of judgment because of the “Fall” and because we also commit wrongs daily, unable to not sin. God chooses, or predestines, some to life. So the doctrine of predestination is that out of this fallen race, God chooses to save some. God, because He is all-knowing and stands outside of time, knew who he would choose before the foundations of the world, and also knew that he would choose us not because we chose him (how can we? We are dead in our sin) but based on his own desire / good pleasure. This is the historical understanding of predestination.

Now, if you are asking why God planned everything the way he did, that is a mystery. In other words, surely God knew that Adam would choose to sin, so why did he allow or permit Adam to do that and thus condemn the whole human race. Why allow suffering in the first place? (By the way Reformed Theology would say that God permits or allows evil, but is not the Creator or source of evil). Or why doesn’t God redeem every last person? These are certainly beyond me. Yet God has been faithful, true and good throughout history and in my own life experience, so even though I don’t fully comprehend His purposes and complete plan (As a finite child compared to an infinite God, how could I?), I fully trust Him.

2. A person, not pre-elected, could be a believer and follower of Christ, but not eligible for salvation?

Only a person chosen by God, regenerated by the Holy Spirit could be a true believer and follower of Christ. Those who God does not work in, do not have the ability to heal their own blindness and believe. Jesus indicates that there are those who will never understand, and the truth is purposefully hid from them. Mark 4:11 “And he said to them, "To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, 12 so that "they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven.” So the case which is presented in the question cannot occur, because you must be elected, chosen by God, by grace (a free gift), in order to first believe.

Colossians 1:24-29 Devotional

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

What a clear mandate and mission that Paul has in his life: "Proclaim Christ to, Warn, and Teach Everyone." Ministry seems to get so complicated. I need to make decisions about the parachurch and churches we support, I need to make a "mission covenant", I need to plan for services that allow people to worship fully, answer emails, and so on. Yet Paul puts it so simply. I think I end up focusing more on the "Teach" rather than the Proclaim and Warn, especially not the Warn. Yet it is for this that Paul toils, empowered by Christ working within him. He suffers for this. This is his life. I only pray that I may live a "life worthy of the calling [I] have received." (Ephesians 4:1)

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A Tale of Elephants and the Mouse

"Once a small mouse was playing around the feet of a family of elephants. The mouse suddenly decided to run down the hill away from the elephants. The elephants did not follow the mouse." - Ken Bailey