Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Revelation as Foundation of Faith

Last week was reading week for my students. It was also my chance to do some preparation for upcoming courses. Today I met with one of my former theology professors to chat about a course on Revelation and Faith I'm delivering in the Winter semester. I must confess that I've wanted his job for years now. He is responsible for introducing me to the work of Jurgen Moltmann as well as helping me understand that it is the questions we ask that matter. As I'm beginning to lay out the course I wanted to benefit from his many years of experience teaching the course (he is retiring). This course has been a bit of an obsession the last week and I need to put it aside while I get back to weekly lesson prep. Hence my post is late.

But before I put it aside, I wanted to share some of what I've been reflecting on.

Finding faith in the Pentecostal church revelation was a tricky subject. Much of what we related to as being God's revelation was taken as an all or nothing proposition. This was very clear in the way we looked at receiving personal prophecies. We mostly believed that it was either completely on (usually the way we initially received it) or it was off the mark. So if someone gave me a word then it was mediated (interpreted) in the moment, often by them but sometimes by myself as well, and it was taken as gospel truth. That is until it was brought into question then usually the whole word was thrown out as being of the flesh, pizza, or sometimes even of the devil (thankfully not often). The problem with this schema is that it misses the role that we play in how revelation actually works.

I remember distinctly pacing in the school's atrium and thinking about how we play a role in mediating revelation. Meaning not so much that we can get it wrong (although we sometimes do) but that we limit the meaning because we are human and God is not. Theologians put it this way, every revealing of God is also a concealing, we always know in part this side of the veil. So we shouldn't expect to not have had a role in the interpretation (meaning making) that went on in our experience. This does not mean it wasn't God. And even better, it means that God is not done with the revelation given in that moment.

I remember pacing in that atrium thinking about the words that had been spoken over my life. Words that came up over and over again. And what started to happen was that the meaning of those words began to increase. They became even more meaningful. They also began to wrap around the journey that I'd been on and give me a glimpse of what God had been doing all along. It is not lost on me that several years later, in that same auditorium, I had an elder of a church meeting in my school prophecy many of the same words over me yet again - cool story, I'll share it some time.

So I want to encourage you. Revelation is God's self-communication to us. We should expect that it will keep speaking and not limit the meaning to the interpretations of the moment. We should also expect that as we mature our understandings of God's revelation will mature. That we can expect the prophetic word of God to become more sure.

Remember the words God has spoken over you. Ask the Spirit to continue to reveal more of Jesus through those words. Be encouraged - God always has more in store for us.

Frank Emanuel - Freedom Vineyard

Monday, October 13, 2014

Thankful for Friends

Happy Thanksgiving! 

We had the opportunity this week to share a couple meals with good friends. Some Vineyard folks passing through Ottawa stopped by and Sunday night we shared turkey with the couple that were leaders in our own congregation. When we moved last year one of the things we were looking forward to most was having better space for entertaining the people we love. So after dinner as we all sat around in our living room, when my oldest pulled her chair around to make a circle, it was like a dream come true.

Friends are a real source of life for us. This is especially necessary when going through the intensity of pastoring. Jon, who came up with his family earlier in the week, has been but a skype call away whenever I've needed him. Having people that we can talk to when trying to sort through things, make hard decisions, or even just recover from being treated poorly - all the sorts of things that can happen when we risk ourselves in ministry - is so important. Having them close is even better.

Also it is through the way we interact with our friends that our kids see our faith in action. Our kids are at the age where they are exploring things on their own, trying to figure out the important questions. This is when they are less open to imitating our faith, but at the same time super observant as to what our faith actually does in our lives. I am conscious that I don't want my kids to be sold a false image of faith, while at the same time seeing how important our faith is to us. We demonstrate it in what we value in those relationships - giving, encouraging, praying, etc. And it even works out in how we interact with our friends who don't share our faith - how do we respect and value those friendships as well.

So this thanksgiving I am truly grateful for my friends.

What are you thankful for?

Frank Emanuel - Ottawa, ON

Monday, October 6, 2014

theology: doing it wrong

Frederick Buechner writes that, "...all theology, like all fiction, is at its heart autobiography, and that what a theologian is doing essentially is examining as honestly as he can the rough-and-tumble of his own experience with all its ups and downs, its mysteries and loose ends, and expressing in logical, abstract terms the truths about human life and about God that he believes he has found implicit there." [1]

I have found this to be true in my own life. I find the nature of God carved throughout my life experiences, sometimes in fine, deep grooves with exquisite detail, sometimes in barely noticeable scratches. I see the glimpses of the Inexhaustible One in every step of my lifelong learning journey. I see the Loving One beaming through my relationships. I see the Creator dancing in the wind as it swirls around the leafy trees outside my window. But perhaps harder to accept (and yet easier to feel) are the marks that come through failure and disappointment: painful slashes, sharp chops, and disfiguring dents that leave me changed forever, wondering if I am still whole or capable or good or even beautiful.

Getting things wrong is fine and dandy in a classroom, in a practice session, when learning to ride a bike or make sushi, but in theology...well, we are perhaps not so gracious with ourselves and with each other. However, truth be told, much of my knowledge of God comes from reading about the experiences of people like Abram and Sarai, David, Elisha, Hosea, Ruth, Peter, Martha, and Mary. They made plenty of wrong assumptions about God, about Jesus, and about the nature of their relationship to the Divine. The stories surrounding their failures contain some of the most lucid and transformative revelations about God that we find in the Bible.

Personally, my theology is always being rewritten, and I believe that's a very good thing. A changing theology does not reflect an elusive and unstable God or a God in process or a God of my own making. No, it says that God is God and I am not. I get things wrong, I misinterpret things, I jump to conclusions. We all do, but the beauty of theology is that it moves us forward in our ability to describe a relationship with the Eternal One, the Good Father, the Righteous Judge, the Lover of Our Souls. We catch increasing glimpses of glory, goodness, and mystery, and we continue to search for truth. And getting closer to the truth probably means trying a few things that won't work.  The tricky part is in recognizing when we are off-track and when things don't line up.

The four sources for theology are commonly held to be the scriptures, reason, tradition, and experience. When these four come together in harmony, theology sings with clarity and strength, vibrant with the voice of the Holy Spirit. If one of these four elements becomes a shrill voice, out of tune and disagreeable, or perhaps goes totally silent, we have to ask ourselves, "Where did we go off key?" Theology is meant to be done in community. I need others to point out my blind spots, to ask questions that I would never think of, to strengthen me where I am weak, and to surround me with their unique but harmonious voices. I have to be willing to be wrong, to make adjustments, to have my vision of God enlarged and corrected.

Sometimes adjusting our theology and our ideas about God can feel like we are being disloyal to the church, like we are betraying the Bible, like we are being asked to be unreasonable, or like our faith is on shaky ground. And yet, it is the way that revelation works: when we are confronted with an aspect of God that we had not previously considered or experienced, we must be willing to put aside our current viewpoints and embrace what the Holy Spirit reveals to us. Read the story of how Peter had his mind changed about God's view of non-Jews in Acts 10. It rocked his world!

Thomas Edison, the inventor of the electric light bulb and holder of over a thousand patents, famously said, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." If a theologian uttered those same words, we might think him a pretty sad example of a theologian, but I think one of the primary characteristics of one who studies God should be a deep humility. Our subject matter is the mysterious Inexhaustible One, after all!

Now I am in no way condoning throwing out the creeds or basic doctrinal tenets found in the scriptures and starting from scratch. No, no, no! We stand on the shoulders of great fathers and mothers in the faith and we must not take lightly what we read in the scriptures; tradition and the Bible are sources of theology, remember? I am simply acknowledging the fact that as we continue to seek God, we may from time to time be surprised and maybe even shocked by God's extreme generosity, by God's radical justice, and by God's power of redemption. I suspect that it will continue to be so for all eternity. But I might be wrong.

"Without faith no one can please God because the one coming to God must believe that God exists, and he rewards those who come seeking." Hebrews 11:6, The Voice

[1] Frederick Buechner, The Sacred Journey (Harper & Row, 1982), 1.

Monday, September 15, 2014

ThoughtWorks Library Project

One of the dreams I've had for ThoughtWorks is a resource library. This afternoon I spent some time with my old pastor Jim Rennicks going through his library. He's clearing the clutter and he happened to have tonnes of tape sets from back in the early days. Listening to his stories from the early days was a much needed refresher. But I also came away with tape sets, workbooks, and a good assortment of books with Vineyard connections. Over the next while I'll set up a LibraryThing account for the ThoughtWorks and I'll make these available for whoever needs them. In fact I think some of this stuff is quite rare now so if anyone in our network has the means to digitize tapes that might be quite helpful. (NOTE: I have now entered the books in our thoughtworks account. I'd like to add a copy of each of the books used in our ThoughtWorks curriculum, so I'd appreciate any donations you might want to make.)

Once I have the resources databased, my idea for a lending library is that we'd get the resource to you provided you agree to get it to the next destination. We'd keep track of who has what, connect a request via email and spread the wealth. For example, let's say Jon wants to read the first edition copy of Breakthrough I scored. I'd send it to him (probably via mail) and he'd understand that when someone else requests it he will be responsible to get it to them. We could also take donations of books for the library, simply adding them and noting who they can be requested from.

Frank Emanuel - Ottawa

Monday, September 8, 2014

enLive is live!

enLive was awesome! If you weren't able to make it you are still able to hear what went on. The main sessions were recorded and are available on the Vineyard Canada site
Vineyard Canada

We would love to hear how enLive has impacted you. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

the poker pastor

Image from pokersites101.com
Integrity is hard. As human beings we are good at dividing, separating, delineating, bifurcating, and complicating. It just seems easier than the other options. Dean is a bi-vocational pastor (I don't really like the term but it is the one in common use). This means that he has a full-time job as a Business Manager and he also pastors people in a faith community in our city. Basically, he has two vocations. Or does he? I believe he has one vocation or calling and that is to love God and love people. This happens at his day job, during church meetings, over lunches and dinners, when we gather with friends, praying for people, giving people rides, and working in an honest and effective manner so that his company does well. The paying job is not just a means to enable Dean to pastor a small, urban church. No, it is all one calling, one life, one vocation. Maybe a better term would be wholly-vocational, meaning that his calling seeps into every part of his life.

One of the non-helpful habits we have in the church is to separate our spiritual doings and thoughts from our secular ones. At its root, the term secular refers to something which relates to an age or a particular period of time. Unfortunately, it has come to mean that which is not connected with spiritual matters. But let me ask you, is anything dis-connected from spiritual matters? I don't think so. We are now beginning to re-learn that physical, chemical, intellectual, social, emotional, cultural, environmental, and hereditary factors all work together to affect our well-being. It is becoming more apparent that we divorce parts of life from each other at our own peril.

Life was meant to hold together as a unit, not be separated into job, family, church, hobby, me-time, finances, leisure, vacation, etc. For you fiction readers out there, John Irving captures a sense of the unity of life in his novel, A Prayer for Owen Meany. Recently I came across a lovely example of an artist incorporating unusual, everyday materials to make ethereal sculptures, integrating work and art in social spaces. (See this TEDtalk by artist Janet Echelman). Spiritual stuff is not meant to be cloistered inside a church meeting; the life of Jesus is meant to spill from our lives into the world. I believe that integrating all the parts of our lives can make our world more beautiful, multi-splendoured, and exquisitely meaningful.

I came across this video a few weeks ago from a Vineyard pastor in Washington state. I exclaimed a loud YES after watching it because it is an example of real integrity. Instead of trying to trim her life down to just the really important spiritual stuff, or viewing her hobbies as a way to decompress from the heavy burden of pastoring, she became aware that all of her life was vocation, even her rather unorthodox hobby. And I love the fact that it brought her into contact with people who might have remained at the fringes of her life had she not stepped into living life wholly-vocationally.

Watch it and be inspired. Rose Madrid-Swetman: The Poker Pastor

Monday, August 18, 2014

Using Vineyard Institutes in Your Context

One of the great things that came to light at enLive was the richness in equipping opportunities we have in the Canadian Vineyard. Jeremy Burke, who administers course delivery for Vineyard Institutes, recently sent out a letter encouraging folks on how they can use VI courses in their own contexts. Here is his letter:

Hey Everyone,

I'm so glad you took the time to drop by the Vineyard Institute table at Enlive 2014. It was an amazing conference and I'm so excited about what God is doing in our country across the Vineyard Canada family. 

I wanted to pass on some important information about Vineyard Institute Canada and invite you to ask any questions you may have re: VI Canada. Here is some information to consider as you think about where VI fits into your context. 

How would I use VI in my church?

1. Training Key Leaders: 
Have a member of your church who has a teaching gift and loves to preach but isn't sure about dedicating years to attending Seminary? It's easy to shape VI around the development of leaders in a community. You can suggest the VI course on homiletics or perhaps hermeneutics. There are lots of options for leaders developing their skills. 
2. Start with the Core:
If people are curious about VI but are unsure where to start a recommendation could be to start with the Vineyard Institute core courses (Theology of the Kingdom/Biblical Metanarrative). Taking the core courses is a fantastic jump-start into any of the three certificates offered by VI, meaning if you decide to pursue one of the certificate options you are already on your way. The core courses also provide you with a great foundation for Kingdom leadership.  
3. Launch a VI Canada Hub:
A hub is a local church that has three or more students taking VI courses. One of the advantages of taking VI courses as a group is that the students are linked together online and in person. Imagine working on Bible courses with a group of people from your local church. This additional component to the learning model provides developing leaders a chance to learn from one another along with the course material. 
When is the Fall 2014 registration deadline?
The last day to apply for courses for the Fall quarter is August 25th, 2014. Please go here to begin the application today!
Where can I find a detailed list of the courses offered through VI?
For a complete list of VI courses, including the ones offered in the Fall 2014 session, visit our course catalogue.
How much are VI Canada courses?
Vineyard Institute Canada courses are $140.00 

Many blessings,
Community Life Pastor - Ottawa Valley Vineyard
Administrator - Vineyard Institute Canada