Monday, June 30, 2014

Jesus is Lord: A PCUSA Affirmation (By Mike Regele)

A month ago, I pointed out that the Irvine Pres. Church (IPC) Discernment document/website had mistakes, such as the statement that a majority of PCUSA pastors do not affirm Jesus as the unique and only Savior. I provided a very brief answer. Well, today, I share Michael Regele's much, much more thorough answer since this question seems to keep coming up. So, here we go. I have also highlighted with bold font something that should demolish this myth once and for all. Please don't miss it :).

July 3rd Update: Mike sent me a 'clean' (typo-free and more academic type article) than the blog original post. 

A Brief Response to a friend’s query...

By Michael B. Regele
July 2, 2014

Email from Norm Gordon: Could you possibly address the statement on the IPC website quoted below?
As a result of a 2011 survey of its own pastors, the PC(USA) reported that over half of our pastors could not affirm that Jesus is the unique and only Savior. 

Do you know where that comes from?

"He strives with God" - About Remedial Complaints, Stays and Discerning the Spirit in Community

Five remedial complaints have been filed in the cases of the first five churches that were dismissed by the presbytery on May 31st and June 7th. Five stays were granted. What does this mean? 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Notes on ECO Polity (By Dan Saperstein)

"Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men." That was said by Lord Acton, a most interesting Englishman, Catholic, politician and American Confederacy sympathizer. The Christian Bible, however, has something a lot more hopeful to say about power and powerlessness, doesn't it? One of my favorite verses is Colossians 1:11. I offer it on behalf of our presbytery with heartfelt prayer for us to "find a more excellent way" and thank you for joining me in this prayer: May we be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy. In Jesus name, we pray. Amen. Now, a plunge into polity.
An analysis by Daniel M. Saperstein1 (Prepared for First Presbyterian Church, Houston)

The intent of Presbyterian polity is to determine the just and orderly distribution and exercise of power within the church for the sake of the mission and witness of the church. It specifies roles and responsibilities for the faithful, orderly, and effective service of God in ministry and mission. It provides protections and procedures for the just resolution of conflict and the correction of error. Polity and church law is made necessary by our human propensity to sin and self-interest, both as individuals and groups. Presbyterian polity provides the constraints of due process and constitutional law to incorporate checks and balances to prevent abuse in the system.

In the PCUSA, the Historic Principles of Presbyterian Government (F-3.02) express how the checks and balances within the polity serve to maintain order and justice. The genius of Presbyterian polity is that as authority in the church expands, so does the scope of accountability, so that issues are ultimately decided by the voice of the whole church.

A comparison of the PCUSA and ECO polities will demonstrate that one key distinction between the two is ECO’s greater location of power in pastors and sessions without adequate accountability either to the presbytery above or to the congregation below. If the oft-cited criticism of the PCUSA by ECO-bound churches is that it is too restrictive in its polity but too lax in its theology, ECO is precisely the opposite – overly restrictive in theology while giving free rein in polity.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

The Israel of God (A Reflection By Tom Cramer)

Reaction to the divestment results separated by 7 votes.
The reflection about the recent PCUSA divestment decision was a special edition e-sharing today from Tom Cramer, Associate Executive Presbyter/COO, Presbytery of Los Ranchos. Tom explains the close vote, and he explains the Scriptures that shed light on the complex situation.Tom provides links to the actual divestment language used in the measure, and a FAQ on Middle East Peacemaking, Divestment Strategy. I encourage you to read these source and FAQ documents rather than just the media or news summaries only. I have been surprised by the inaccuracies in the reports from both sides, conservative and liberal. Btw, click on this link if you would like to sign up to receive the PLR E-sharing.

Dear Colleagues in Ministry, 

Along with other actions of the 221st General Assembly, some of you may wish to learn more about the narrow vote of the 221st General Assembly to divest from three U.S. companies currently profiting from Israel’s occupation of Palestine. For this purpose, I am attaching a FAQ sheet on Middle East Peacemaking so that you may have accurate and timely information about the rationale for the Assembly’s action. It may also be found on or directly at Please notice that the ACTUAL LANGUAGE of the divestment measure is on Page 4 of the attached document. It is the answer to the question, “What is the actual language of the divestment measure?”

I would also like to take this opportunity to offer a personal reflection on an issue related to peacemaking in Israel and Palestine. From what I can tell, conflict often arises between Christians because there is some measure of confusion over the nature of Israel itself, or, more accurately, a failure on our part to properly delineate the difference between “biblical Israel” and “the modern state of Israel.” For this reason, I am writing this reflection with the hope of clarifying what we mean when we say “Israel” so that we don’t stray too far from its Reformed biblical meaning. As always, I am always eager to hear other perspectives on this topic, so please don’t hesitate to write me.

People Without A Nation (By Trevecca Okholm)

Personal Reflections on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and the PC/USA vote for Sanctions

I did not support the overture; however, that does not mean that I am not aware of and sympathetic to the issue. I have a very personal and direct relationship to the suppression and persecution suffered by the Palestinian people - specifically the Palestinian CHRISTIAN people.

About 23 years ago while traveling and teaching with a Wheaton College summer abroad program, Dennis and I were invited into the home of a Palestinian Christian where, along with some of our students, we connected with a young man named Yohanna Katanacho, a Palestinian Christian who grew up in the old city, living on the Via Delarosa in apartments owned by the Catholic Church. Due to persecution by Israeli government, Yohanna’s family finally pulled up roots and moved to Australia to avoid further persecution. Yohanna remained behind in Jerusalem where he suffered regular persecution and was considered to be a “non-citizen” since he was a Palestinian living in his Palestinian “homeland” in the nation that was now named “Israel.”

Monday, June 23, 2014

"A More Excellent Way"

This is a special e-sharing from Tom Cramer sent to the teaching and ruling elders in our presbytery on June 20th. Jerry Tankersley shared it with his congregation @Laguna Beach Pres.. I share it and encourage us to echo Tom's hope, turning it into a cry from our hearts to our loving Triune God. Tom wrote: "My sincere hope is that we can show “a more excellent way” by remaining together in love and forbearance amid our differences, as difficult as this may be."  For our God nothing is impossible. Please join me in this prayer for the churches in our presbytery with our brothers and sisters in Christ. In Jesus name, we pray, Amen.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Ocean of Grace: Choose A Book Cover

Our lives are sacred. 
Each of is valuable. 
Often, the fast pace of our modern lives shrouds these truths. 
Ocean of Grace, a modest literary collection aims to help  us re-discover a sense of the sacred and experience the grace that is present in every moment of our lives. 

That is the short description of my book Ocean of Grace. I have been trying to get it out the door for awhile now. The content was ready to be published in Spring but the Spirit led me to wait. While the short description for the book flowed naturally I have had a bit of difficulty choosing the picture and colors for the cover.

Two pictures - Shadows and Waves and Gone to the Beach made it to the top. The first one seen here is Shadows and Waves (aka Beach Shadows or Shadows on the Beach)

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Vulnerable Bible (Devotional) By Ron Shackelford

“God's powerful word is as sharp as a surgeon's scalpel, cutting through everything, whether doubt or defense, laying us open to listen and obey. Nothing and no one is impervious to God's Word. We can't get away from it-- no matter what.” Hebrews 4:12 (The Message)

Why are there so many divisions in Christendom? Pride is one reason. Take the use of Scripture. Until we reach a place of humility, in heart and mind, the vulnerable Bible will be misused.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

ECO: "Filtering the Toxins"

"Who exactly are the toxins they are referring to? Would they consider someone like me toxin?" Andrew asked.

On May 18th, our session announced to the congregation that they were recommending leaving the PC (USA). They outlined a process of ~ 30 days at the end of which the congregation would vote - a non-binding non straw poll -  for IPC to enter into the formal discernment process with our Presbytery. Our pleas for prayer and true discernment BEFORE any kind of a poll have fallen on deaf ears so far (see Open Letter dated June 6 and Open Response to Session and Open Letter to Pastor/Head of Staff June 13th).

Today, I share the question that was asked at the May 28th Town Hall after we had watched a movie on ECO (Evangelical Covenant Order). [ECO, formed in 2012, is the "tribe" that our two pastors feel they belong to and Session is recommending IPC join.] Anyway, after the presentation, during the Q&A, feeling a pressing of the Spirit, I got up and shared from my heart. "I've never spoken at a town hall before. I am an immigrant to this country and IPC is my family. All this talk of leaving the denomination without prayer and congregational discernment first is breaking my heart. I want to respect your rules and so I will just ask the question. Last year, I joined the SCT in our presbytery, the group charged with developing the Open Season of Discernment process. I brought this appointment and news of discernment to Session's attention. Since then I've felt marginalized by the leadership. For example, I was dropped from the all-church wide email distribution list.* I didn't even get the e-blast about IPC going into discernment. If session has been studying this for 4 years why is the congregation being given only a month to decide? " Session's answer was a disingenuous: "This is just the first step in the process. There will be plenty of time for discernment later." I was followed by a young man, who said, "Like Anita, I've been feeling marginalized. I could not help but notice that a statement was made in the ECO movie about "filtering the toxins out." He asked, "Who exactly are the toxins they are referring to? Would they consider someone like me toxin?"

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Open Response to Session and Open Lettter to Lead Pastor & Head of Staff

Wonder. Awe. Glad Praise. Peace. These are what I've been predominantly experiencing this week. It shouldn't be surprising but I continue to be blown away by our awesome God. Whenever I have stepped out in faith and followed his lead, he has always equipped, provided and protected me. He is steadfast loving-kindness.  And, this time is no different. If you're following the denominational discernment in the little corner of the world where I've been planted, here's the latest. You will remember I shared An Open Letter to Session last Friday.  I remember my overwhelming feelings of sadness when I first got the news. I spoke up at the Town Hall most reluctantly, and only because I felt such a Spirit-pressing. I thought I was alone in my feelings. Then, I started to hear from others. I could not have imagined all that is now happening or the people God has brought to me. Now, I feel affirmed and encouraged by your sharing and your prayers. Thank you. Thanks also to those who distributed our letter widely. That too was unexpected and affirming. I believe in the unity of the body of Christ. I am not naive, however, to think we won't have differences. Our challenge is to continue to love one another right here, right now, despite our differences, and live together in His joy and unity, instead of retreating or leaving. I am glad that God has brought me the strength and wisdom to do so. I am also grateful to God for giving me the privilege of listening to you, my family in Christ and being a voice for the many of you who are hurting and unable, reluctant, or fearful to speak for "fear of repercussions." I pray for shalom for you.  May God help each of us find our voices and His peace. May we come together in a community of graciousness that invites companionship not moral certitudes and restfulness not acquisitiveness/unthinking pursuit of ends that don't show a love for neighbor. Let us turn to Jesus unitedly and become blessing bearers of his justice and love, reconciliation and healing.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Shape Of Things To Come: Wright Amidst Emerging Ecclesiologies(Begbie)

Years ago I downloaded the audio files of papers presented at the Jesus, Paul and the People of God: A Theological Dialogue with N.T. Wright (2010 Wheaton Theological Conference). I am ashamed to admit that I never had the chance to listen to them. Until now. There they stayed on my iPhone waiting for God's perfect time. Earlier this week, when I was working out, the random shuffle began to play one of the papers. Although I was annoyed and would have preferred mind-relaxing music, I decided to listen. I found it relevant and timely. Worshiping with some of the new worshiping communities (new church plants) in our Presbytery of Los Ranchos  has been, over the last year, my joy and privilege. The paper on emerging churches by Jeremy Begbie, a Biblical scholar and systematic theologian at Duke University, describes "The Shape of Things To Come" and it is something I am watching unfold in real life. Although it is a 2010 conference paper - five years old - I thought it most pertinent for all that is happening now in our life together as the people of God too and so I share it. I must also admit that only the Holy Spirit can do something like this. Recently, I was asked "Why is church unity so important?" When I answer with Scripture (e.g. Jesus Unity prayer for his followers through the ages, Paul's Ephesians writings on the church as God's new society) and our Ordination vows (where unity comes before purity) I get shrugged off. Well, Begbie, also an ecclesiolgist (ecclesiology is the theological study of the Christian Church) touches on church unity as well. Unity is a Gospel-matter, he says along with Wright. Thus, his insight is valuable for all disciples of Jesus as when he notes "radical orthodoxy tends to resolve the identity and agency of Christ into the identity and agency of the Church..."

Begbie starts by sharing that N.T. Wright most strangely has become one of the top resources for emerging churches. The conference was held to honor the ministry of Wright. Begbie frames his comments around Tom Wright's (N.T. Wright) works defining the Church as one people of God brought into being by the Messiah and the Spirit. The people of God include the local church, emerging church, Visible & Invisible Church.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

John Stott's Evangelical Truth: A Personal Plea for Unity, Integrity, and Faithfulness

John Stott (1921-2011) was an Anglican preacher, and an evangelical. Stott has had and will continue to have a profound and international influence on millions of people through his thoughtful works. He is the author of the bestseller Basic Christianity (first published in 1958) and also of the fun, yet profound The Birds Our Teachers: Biblical Lessons from a Lifelong Birdwatcher (1998). An  alternative titled, tongue-in-cheek no doubt, is Lessons from Orni-Theology. Clearly John had a sense of humor besides being a world-traveler, prolific theologian, preacher, writer and photographer! A Collector’s edition of Birds was published by Candle Books in UK in 2007 together with a DVD, containing an audio of the text, and audio-visual recording of John Stott’s account of his 70th birthday trip to the Falkland Islands and Antarctica, and illustrated with his own photographs taken while birdwatching around the globe. Here are some reflections and excerpts from the slim booklet, Evangelical Truth, written for the Christian Doctrine in Global Perspective series and the winner of the 2000 Christianity Today Award of Merit. This is a MUST read.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Keith Geckeler's A Rebuttal to Arguments of Congregations Seeking Dismissal

New Hope Pres. a new PC (USA) worshiping community
He was dancing like I love to do, with his hands in the air, his body swaying to the beat, his face a rosy red, his whole being radiating an insouciant energy and joy. Except, he was singing in the Gospel Choir and I was in the pews. We were worshiping our awesome Living God at New Hope Pres.. which meets in Orange. Little did I know, then, that the singing-dancing man was Keith Geckeler, the Stated Clerk of the Presbytery of Los Ranchos. Nor did I know, that one day, today, I would have the honor of reading a paper that he, the Rev. Dr. Keith Geckeler wrote "on his way out the door" of PLR. I pray that you find Keith's words on leaving the denomination illuminating.

Friday, June 6, 2014

An Open Letter to IPC Session

We covet your prayers for our church and indeed Christ's worldwide Church and all people everywhere. One of the very real problems facing us today is our inability to handle conflict and differences even among "like-minded" disciples of Jesus; too often, among Presbyterians, polity is used to solve problems that are best handled first and foremost with prayer and patient discernment, followed by theological discussions, Biblical exegesis, and Spirit-led preaching. The righteous shall live by faith! (Habakkuk 2:4). Thank you for joining us in this thanksgiving from the Book of Common Prayer for the Mission of the Church:  

Almighty God, you sent your Son Jesus Christ to reconcile the world to yourself: We praise and bless you for those whom you have sent in the power of the Spirit to preach the Gospel to all nations. We thank you that in all parts of the earth a community of love has been gathered together by their prayers and labors, and that in every place your servants call upon your Name; for the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours for ever. Amen.

Now, the letter. God's will be done. We offer it humbly, respectfully, praying for grace.

6 June, 2014 - An Open Letter to Irvine Pres. Church (IPC) Session

Last Wednesday evening, we attended the second of the two IPC Town Halls on congregational discernment. We thank our Session leaders for their work, but the information presented was not balanced, and the speed of the congregational discernment is shocking. We write this as an open letter in the interest of transparency and speaking truth to power, in love.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Comparison of ECO, PC (USA) and EPC

A little more than a week ago, May 20, 2014, the Office of Theology and Worship, PC (USA) released a chart: Comparison of Basic Beliefs and Viewpoints of Three Presbyterian Denominations: Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) (PCUSA), Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians (ECO), and Evangelical Presbyterian Church (EPC). The comparison chart was developed "at the request of Mid-Council leaders in the Presbyterian Church (USA)... Every effort has been made to make this as accurate as possible, using the official documents of each denomination as sources." The comparisons themselves are 2 pages long - 13 issues ranging from foundational beliefs (about substitutionary atonement, etc.) to statements/view of the denomination on Marriage, Abortion, and Per Capita Income (how much per person does the church have to pay to the denomination), and Property Ownership (who owns the church property). The PC (USA) Confessions, EPC's Essentials of Our Faith, and ECO's Essential Tenets are also attached.

Monday, June 2, 2014

On Fire: Faith and Fitness

Yesterday, we celebrated Ascension Sunday. (Some Christians celebrated it earlier on Thursday.) Ascension day is the celebration of our Lord Jesus leaving Planet Earth and ascending into Heaven, taking his seat next to God, our Father, in the Heavenly court. A great day to rejoice and so I want to share somewhat old but still joyous news. On May 22nd, Jennie and I, along with some members of our wonderful team - Marilyn, Christie, Nancy - officially launched our new ministry On Fire: Faith and Fitness at Open Space, the Presbytery of Los Ranchos Gathering. I am very grateful to these friends who were present and must also thank two other members of our SoCal team and across the globe besides two other friends who prayed for us so faithfully: Larry, Shanti, Don, Marcy, Arlene and Lucy. I'm particularly indebted to a few members of The Unknowns too - Bruce, Ron and Don - who allowed me to practice on them, impromptu, no technology, the day before Open Space and filled in many blank spots! If I missed naming any other awesome helpers, please forgive me! I had planned to present at only one of the two Open Space sessions but I ended up presenting at both. Many thanks to all the people who participated and gave such excellent feedback too at Open Space. Jennie and I'd invited you to help us shape On Fire Faith ad Fitness together and you're doing that indeed. Here's some details.