08 July, 2011

Remembering Her Who Spoke the Word to Me

Hebrews 13:7 says, "Remember... those who spoke to you the Word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith."

For me the Word of God was first spoken to me by Mary Ann Di Nicola. Mary Ann opened the Word of God in such a way that the Lord Jesus Christ became living and active to me. In these early months and years of being a Christian, Mary Ann would say, "Nathan, I want you to know that I am the one teaching you this because the men of this generation have not done their job." The Word of God was frequently opened, taught, and lived out through the interactions, lessons, and thorough examinations from the Scriptures.

I remember one day sitting in her living room, along with Shawn Anderson, and Mary Ann asked us to go to the portion of the Scriptures where Jesus and Nicodemus talk about eternal life. Neither of us knew where it was (if I am remembering correctly). Mary insisted that without a thorough knowledge of the Word of God we would not be able to live out the spiritual battle that is going on around us. She was right.

Mary introduced me to the Scriptures. She introduced me to the Westminster Shorter Catechism. She introduced me to the Puritans (Heaven Taken By Storm by Thomas Watson was the first book that she had me read after I became a Christian. Years later, while in seminary I noticed that the introduction to that book was written by my own seminary professor!). For these things, along with prayers, love, friendship, unwanted advice, and even numerous admonishments and rebukes have all helped to shape me into the man of God that I am today (no matter how faulty).

As I consider the woman that first spoke the Word of God to me, I am abundantly grateful to the Lord Jesus Christ that he used this weak vessel to bring me to a saving knowledge of himself. The value of this in my life can never be overstated.

I would like to share the testimony of her coming to saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. The cost of discipleship is high. Each one of us must weight the cost- and as I consider she that God used to speak the Word of God to me, the cost of her discipleship is what comes to mind the quickest. Mary Di Nicola paid a great price for following her Lord- and it made her all the more passionate about her Lord. As I consider she who spoke the Word of God to me, I must ask myself these questions: Do I consider the cost? Has the Gospel cost me anything? Do I reflect the zeal and passion of one who has surrendered all?

As I consider the one who spoke the Word of God to me, I must consider my own discipleship. Have you considered the cost?

The Cost of Discipleship by Mary Ann Di Nicola Jaggi (February 2010)

The Cost of Discipleship....Nearly three decades ago on Christmas Eve, the most reverent of holidays in my parent's home, I stood in the kitchen that I spent most of my youth cooking in, clad in an apron, holding a simmering pot of the best Italian marinara sauce in the world! The scene was the stuff of holiday magazine covers...and I stood there, scared to death.

I was surrounded by my siblings, their spouses and children, along with my father, who I deeply loved, now straddling across a pregnant table to take the huge pot from me to be placed at the center. Most everyone was eating and enjoying the many traditional dishes set before them and though there was a solemn presence, there was laughter as well.

My mother had died less than a year before and her absence was like a pall over the setting. She was so integral to every holiday that she often seemed like the Captain of the Enterprise as she directed the event from her position at the stove. I held her in the highest regard at such affairs, often I had been her right hand and carried out intricate orders from her, even as a young girl. Whether for 5 or 500, my mother never failed to fill hungry bellies...she was the Maker of many a memory!

I was born in an Italian-American family and raised as a strict Roman Catholic in a family that was a member of organized crime. Every possible stereotype could rightfully be applied to my extended family but those who sat around in the over-sized kitchen which my mother designed, were not murders, thugs or con-men. They were the product of parents who had given as much as they could to raising productive educated children of honorable occupations and careers.
I adored my father. And crippling was the emotion I felt that night, for I knew I was about to put a thorn into his already burdened heart.

As was the course of every holiday meal, the eating turned to conversation over a myriad of baked goods; delicacies of a world away...treasured desserts my mother learned from her mother and grand-mother and enjoyed as far back as the Roman Empire...passed down to myself and my 9 siblings.

My mother, an educated woman with degrees in the Sciences and Education, would often start the "best part of the holiday"...the banter and debate on subjects of deep personal opinion. From religion to politics, it was no holds barred.

I loved that time of the holidays when I would listen and often interject my own 2-cents into the mix. We all did...and those who sat silent and did not participate were thought ill! Volume was no concern and it was late into the night that one could still hear the Di Nicola family lifting their corporate wisdom to the heavens.

But Mama was not there now and the conversation did not seem to have the spark. Tears, welling frequently in my father's eyes were noticed by every son and daughter and worried quick glances darted one to another. We were all trying so hard to carry forward with tradition...to honor the missing one who had so loved to celebrate with family and friends. But it was so difficult and so surreal.

It is important at this point, to give a truncated recollection of two events that preceded this life-altering Christmas Eve night...a night I had prayed would never come.

Almost a year before, my mother suffered a bizarre classroom accident which left her infirm. She was a strong-willed woman and did not want assistance. She did well caring for herself most of that year, watched over frequently by visiting siblings and one daughter who lived across the street. I was out of town at the time for I had returned to college to obtain further education.

I had been attending Notre Dame College for Theology, pursuing a major in Old Testament Studies. I hoped, with stellar efforts, to be considered as one of the first woman priests authorized by the church. Semesters of 24 and 26 credit hours had not deterred me from maintaining my position on the Dean's List. I loved being educated, and sitting at the feet of learned men. I loved the convent, the sisters, my classmates and the faith I had always strictly adhered to throughout my life.

I was a true Soldier of the Cross in every way and held to the Code of Canon Law as the Church demanded.

But one winter's night, alone in my chilly room, the power of God laid upon the Word before me and a Light streamed into my understanding.

My conversion was shattering to me and deeply personal. I would not degrade it's wonder for a few lines here.

Not a single soul was present save the Spirit of the Living God and in a whisper I heard the Truth. I still dream of that moment. Still dream of the night when every paradigm of my life shattered...like pieces of a stained glass window that would never find it's form again.
I could not cope with the revelation. I returned home to my confused family and my disappointed, sickly mother and watched as she became the embodiment of my religious death. As I stood at her bedside and watched her agonizing with each breath, my Romanist god and his lying doctrine died with her.

In the year that followed, I sought understanding for what was happening to me spiritually. There was no guide in my journey to lead me and neither did the Kindly Light lead anyone to me, save tele-evangelists and their ilk. For almost a year I hid the truth from my precious father and family. In the morning, on Sundays, I sat in the pew beside them and in the evening crept away in stealth to visit a Pentecostal Church that held so many answers, it seemed.

But a time came when I could not continue to serve two masters for I felt fully the hypocrite that I was. I had grown to despise the catholic way of deeds and doing. I could barely stand the words of the Mass, as time and again, the priest with the authority of Rome and its god, sacrificed once again, the Son, though he himself had proclaimed in dying breath "Tetelestai"..."It is finished". Many Protestants fail to understand that the catholic Mass is not a SYMBOLIC sacrament, it is an ACTUAL sacrifice. So demands the Code of Canon Law. This is not the Gospel of Jesus Christ of Nazareth!

I could bare the weight of the hypocrisy no longer. I was under dire mental fatigue and heartache, as well, for I had to lie more than once, to make it to evening services twice a week to the Pentecostal Church, where I enjoyed my new faith and new Lord. Those lies weighed heavily upon me. I could not tell my father for he had many, many times ranted against the morons and infidels of that particular church. But no one had such hatred for them as my mother. To tell the truth to my father would desecrate my own mother's life and all she stood for and all she taught us. It was from her I drew my deepest commitment to the Vatican and to its god .

I came to a point where I would weep hours on end in travail at having to face the fact that I should boldly be professing the Gospel and the truth of where I was now going to church, to my family and friends. But I was too weak to do it. Too weak to face the heartache. Too weak to be yet another disappointment to my family. I could not tell them for I would face alienation and anger. I knew too much of my father's business in organized crime and I knew I would have to report to the authorities that which I knew, wasn't that the righteous thing to do? Where was the path before me? Where was the way of escape? Was I not to honor my mother and father?
My first accreditation was in Veterinary Science and I had all the knowledge I required to commit suicide in a most efficient manner. Yes, I knew it was wrong but unless you have faced the demons of that hour, I would strongly caution that you not judge one so young in the Lord and so weak. In my basement bedroom, I carried out the procedure with efficiency and laid back waiting for the last breath, yearning to feel anything so long as it was not this confusion. Bible resting on my stomach, I waited as I riffled the pages telling Jesus I was so sorry.

But something was terribly wrong. For the manner by which I was to end my life, was to do so with speed...and nothing was happening! I rose, tears streaming in my eyes as I listened to my father, above me in the kitchen, whistling as he made himself a cup of coffee. I cried because his horrid daughter couldn't even kill herself correctly and now the confusion was beyond understanding. I checked the equipment. But I had done all steps right, how could I still be alive?

I fell to my knees beside my bed, trembling in prayer. I asked first for forgiveness and then for understanding. I was lost in confusion and could see no way out. How could I honor both my father and my Father? I reached for my Bible and asked...asked like I have never asked before nor since...for a Word from the Father to make it through this time of my life, for I could not try again to end it. Was I to openly denounce the Catholic doctrine and forfeit my place in my precious family...to be ostracized and alienated. No one else at church ever gave such testimony. Surely this was not expected of me!

I flipped open the pages and through swollen eyes, I stopped, breathless. For there came strength... A solitary verse that gave me fortitude for the rest of my life. Though I have been challenged on the situation from most every Christian I have ever told the account to, I stand firm on the Author and the Finisher of my faith as giving me specific direction to do as He desired of me. have neither looked to the right nor to the left but made the way by God's leading to a fruitful life in Christ.

There on the pages, I read: Hearken, O daughter, and consider, and incline thine ear; forget also thine own people, and thy father's house; So shall the king greatly desire thy beauty: for he is thy Lord; and worship thou him. Psalm 45:10-11

That Christmas Eve I put forth, to stunned ears, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I told all present that unless they accepted the death of Jesus Christ on Calvary as the sole sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin, that what laid ahead for each and every one of them, despite the novenas, the rosaries, the alms and the Masses was hell itself and eternity apart from God. I told them that a continual sacrifice was was not the Gospel of the Risen Lord and that no amount of priestly intercession for 50 or 50,000 years would pull them from eternal damnation. I told them I was now anathema from the Roman Church and would serve Jesus Christ from the Word alone and not the false christ of men and false doctrine. That night I lost my entire family, just as I knew I would. ..never for one moment have I not loved them. But greater and higher and wider is the love in me for the Christ of God and the Father of Lights than for any that walk this world. Yes, even in this day, there are those who are called to forsake all for Christ's sake.

God bless each and every one of you... Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.

In Christ's Love,
MaryAnn di Nicola Jaggi

07 July, 2011

The Light of the World Gives Light to One

In the Gospels we see numerous responses to the Lord Jesus. As Jesus reveals himself as light in John 8 he then illustrates that aspect of his calling with the healing of a man born blind. Often we fail to see such connections because we have been so trained to cut off the associations because of the numbers in our Bibles (John 8:1; John 9:1). We fail to remember that those numbers are not inspired, but were later added to the text as a help. Sometimes they fail to help because they fail to bring together the connections that are between one chapter and another. Arthur Pink comments on such connections between John 8 and John 9. The Light of the World brought His light to one.. where do you stand in regard to the light of Christ?

In John 8 we behold Christ as the light exposing darkness, but in John 9 He communicates light. In John 8 the Light is despised and rejected, in John 9 He is received and worshiped. In John 8 the Jews are seen stooping down to pick up stones; in John 9 Christ is seen stooping down to make anointing clay. In John 8 Christ hides himself from the Jews; in John 9 He reveals Himself to the blind beggar. In John 8 we have a company in whom the Word has no place; in John 9, outside the Temple, He is owned as Lord. The central truth of John 8 is Light testing human responsibility; in John 9 the central truth is God acting in sovereign grace after human responsibility has failed.

02 July, 2011

So What Happened At the 180th Synod of the RPCNA?

The 180th Synod of the RPCNA met at Indiana Wesleyan University (yes, Wesleyan) from June 28-July 1, 2011. Ruling Elder, Steve McMahon (Midwest Presbytery), was nominated as the Moderator. This was only the second time in RP history that a ruling elder has been elected to this office (according to some reports).

Monday evening began with a gripping sermon from Matthew 16 titled, “I Will Build My Church” by Dr. Jerry O'Neill. The members then took time to remember some of the pastors who had died in the past year. Drs. D. Carson, K. Hoffman, and C. Chao were among them.

Tuesday began with a sermon from this writer on Colossians 1 followed by an extensive discussion concerning the finances of the denomination. The finances appear to be generally stable, although there are a number of boards and agencies that could use more funding (ie: Global Missions and Home Missions being the two most crucial, according to the Scriptures).

The state of the presbyteries appears to be quite stable. Each presbytery is growing, planting churches, and experiencing the smiles of our Heavenly Father. The Atlantic Presbytery is welcoming an American Presbyterian Church into their number. The Great Lakes/Gulf has three congregations that are seeking to unite with them. There is church planting in the South- including a mission in South Carolina, which has not seen an RP Church since before the Secession. The Japanse Presbytery is currently managing nearly $200,000 worth of donations for tsunami relief. And, as you know, the Pacific Coast is celebrating 100 years and is seeking to plant in Tucson, AZ.

The East Asia Committee reported on a recent trip, in which JON and DR met with the leaders of between 20,000 and 30,000 Reformed Presbyterians that are seeking to organize as presbyteries and to have those called to the pastorate and eldership ordained and installed. The Synod made this committee a commission, which gives these men the power to act on behalf of Synod. Ordinations and the organization of presbyteries will result in a denomination that is 3-4 times larger than the North American branch! Thanks to God that the door was not closed (Not Hoi Moon?), but instead built in the way that He saw fit!

Pastor Rut Etheridge led us in worship Wednesday morning. “The Struggle of a Pastor's Heart” was the sermon's title. Doug Lee, the Executive Director of an organization that oversees our chaplains gave a report on our chaplains. It was reported that Chaplain Leach has recovered remarkably from his stroke. He also mentioned Brent England and his work with Hospice.

The Sudan Report was reason for giving praise and thanks to our great God and King! Last year at this time there were 300 members of the Sudan RP Church. At the time of this meeting, there are over 1200 members to Sudanese RP Church. Many churches have been planted, pastors trained, saints discipled and idols burned! For an oral report along with video and photos, go to the following link:

The Sudan Report brought tears to many eyes and was evidence of the great love that Jesus Christ has for building His Church in all parts of the world. As a plug for the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course: many of the principles of global church planting were employed in a distinctively Reformed Presbyterian way. If you are ever able to take this course, it is worth the time and energy. Now back to what we did at Synod...

The Psalter Revision Committee gave their report, along with the final changes to the 5th edition of the Book of Psalms for Worship. A new rendition of Psalm 136D was sung and proved to be a worshipful rendition of the psalm. The committee was dismissed with thanks. They had worked for a number of years to update and improve our book of praise. Lord willing, it will prove to be sufficient for the next couple of generations of RPs.

The Synod took on a huge task last year by forming a committee to study sexual orientation. Our own, Howard Huizing, was able to sit on that committee. Forty-six pages of biblical, confessional, and pastoral material was produced and were adopted by the Synod. This paper will be passed to our sister churches in the USA and around the world, and this writer believes it will set the standard for confessionally reformed churches' position of homosexuality. This paper will be available later in the year as a book from Crown and Covenant. It may also include, in the introduction, the real life stories of RPs who have struggled with sexual identity issues. This will be the new gold standard for biblical counsel on this issue.

Wednesday evening was taken up with greetings from fraternal delegates. Reformed Presbyterians from Australia, Scotland and Cyprus gave greetings and told of the work of Christ in their Synods. Pastor Andrew Quigley spoke of the work of the Scottish RP Church and how they are growing at an unprecedented rate. This is in part from the recent unbiblical actions of the Free Church of Scotland, as well as from pursuing church planting with vigor and prayer. We on the Pacific Coast have a lot to learn from Andrew Quigley's leadership (maybe he will speak for us at our family camp in one of the years to come?).

The ARP, OPC, RCUS, URC, FCS, and HRC all brought greetings to the RPCNA. Can you tell me what all of those letters mean? Even if not, they are Reformed and Presbyterian bodies with which we have some degree of fellowship. One of the delegates is a friend of mine from seminary and it was great spending time catching up on our various pastoral experiences since graduating from seminary together. For the second year in a row, fraternal churches have challenged the RPCNA on our position concerning women deacons. Two denominations this year asked us to review our theological position and practice. There was a motion to form a committee to give an answer for our current practice, but this motion lost. Dr. Spear directed the court to a 2002 exegetical paper on our position.

The International Conference was an area of great interest to the Court. The speaker will be Dr. Joel Beeke. The theme is “How to Live the Christian Life.” July 21-27, 2012 are the dates. We will be at IWU, which is a very beautiful campus. A fellow pastor and friend described it as “what Methodists can do with a large farm and endless funds.” It will prove to be a good place for our conference. People will be shuttled to the campus at no extra charge. Put it on your calendars because 2000 RPs from around the world are expected to be in attendance!

The Thursday morning worship was from Colossians 3 and the sermon was preached by the chaplain of Erskine College and Seminary. This is the ARPs college. The practice of having an ARP preach for us is a long standing tradition in the RPCNA. An RP also preaches at their Synod every year.

The Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary gave their thanks to Don Piper for 25 years of service on the Board of Trustees. His seat has been filled by David Ashleigh. The Seminary sees the need for having a board member from Los Angeles since there are a number of students being supplied to the seminary from our congregation! One piece of controversy from the seminary was the board asking the Synod to allow for a ruling elder to serve as the president. Currently only pastors are allowed to serve as the president. This brought some debate, but in the end, the recommendation was returned to the Seminary Board for review. Most (all?) seminaries have only teaching elders as their presidents.

Crown and Covenant noted that each of their books will also be sold in electronic format. The RP Witness is moving to an every other month mailing due to high postage costs. This will be supplemented by an interactive website that will feature additional articles and other material. The ARP Psalter was published by C&C and is selling very well. This is good news for a denomination that is recently rediscovering psalmody after almost 70 years of allowing hymns in worship!

A request to amend the Directory for Public Worship lost. The request was to clarify that weddings and funerals are NOT public worship. The 1645 Directory for Publick Worship included these items, but they were not considered worship then either, but civil matters. The RP does not consider these gatherings worship, but the request was for further clarity.

Pastor Whitla spoke about the Youth Ministries of the denomination. The Pacific Coast Conference was mentioned as something the Synod Committee was very pleased with. The young ladies of our denomination were also given credit for being quite spiritually mature, but the Youth Ministries Committee is afraid that our young men are not stepping up and showing the leadership that they should. This will be an area of focus to this committee in the next couple of years.

The Finance Committee changed the way that congregational assessments (read: taxes) are done. There will no longer be a $40 per communicant member tax, now 2% of all undesignated funds will be the assessment. This should save smaller churches a great deal.

Overall the Synod was an important time to reconnect with fellow pastors and elders. There was much prayer, psalm singing, fellowship, and even some healthy banter. To those who were not members of the court, but were watching the deliberations during the week, it was clear that Jesus is central in the life of the RP Church. It was also clear that unity and truth are highly valued in our churches. Many spoke of the peace of our Courts being a highlight for them. Psalm 133 was lived out as brothers "dwell in unity" in the Courts of our King, the Lord Jesus Christ.

And of course, the psalm singing was great!