Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas!


May the Jesus whose birth we celebrate be found in all you do by all whom you meet this year.

Jesus, come and make yourself known to our world. Let your Kingdom come!

Wishing you a joyous new year full of Kingdom encounters, deepening faith, and overflowing joy.

Frank Emanuel on behalf of the National Vineyard Thoughtworks Team.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Apologies for the Hiatus

Unfortunately things have been a bit busy around here to keep up with any of the blogs I work on. I will be working hard over the next few weeks to get some content in the queue for the ThoughtWorks blog. As always I am awaiting content from Vineyards and friends of the Vineyard. Just send it on to me. This can be as simple as a pointer to something helpful on the web to an article which you have written. Together we can make this resource better and better.

In the meantime I trust that preparing for Christmas celebrations with your church families is going well. Personally, we have been using the advent candles and gospel readings to augment our own family celebration of the season. The kids love it and my youngest has jumped up to do readings. Just as important as it is to develop good traditions within our churches, it is also good as parents to do the same in our homes. We impoverish our family's faith life when we expect religious education to be someone else's job. I pray that you will all find special and memorable moments throughout this season of expectation and longing. May Christ be renewed in all our lives this Christmas season.

blessings,
Frank Emanuel for the National ThoughtWorks team!

Monday, November 14, 2011

What is in a Name?

I've been part of discussions recently about the term evangelical. As in who is this term appropriate for. But it gets me thinking about the various titles we use to describe ourselves today. In particular, what does it mean to be a Vineyard person?

Vineyard, as a label, shares a lot of similarities with evangelical. Hopefully everyone who would call themselves a Vineyard person in some way find a great attraction in what they have experienced of the values and practices of the Vineyard. But when you get to know this large family to which us Vineyard folk belong, well you realize that there are a lot of different aspects of these Vineyard values that people gravitate towards. In fact sometimes there are aspects of the Vineyard family that folks find not so attractive. If calling myself evangelical meant that I affirmed everything every evangelical did and stood for then I'd be in trouble (probably having narrowed the definition to one particular branch or manifestation of evangelical). Likewise, it isn't everything the Vineyard does that makes us go 'yay Vineyard'. Rather it is the overall ethos, the community and the family that grabs our hearts so strongly.

It is also the quality of people that Vineyard seems to attract. (At least for the most part.) Those dyed in the wool Vineyard folk, even when they have different ways of interpreting various Vineyard values, are in my opinion quality people. Passionate about what they believe in. Confident in God's character and activity. Committed to the whole Body of Christ. Good people. Maybe it is the fact that we value family so much, we realize that the bonds that hold us together deserve the willingness to hear each other fully and to not feel like being family means we all need to believe things exactly the same way. This is the strength of a movement based on values rather than a statement of faith. It is also what I believe will help the Vineyard carve out her place in the future as a family that faithfully proclaims the gospel of our great Savior. Evangelicals, at their core, have this same desire to proclaim the gospel - even though there is a wide variety of ways that gospel is understood (both in proclamation and enactment). It isn't the little things that are important, it is the commitment to being faithful to God that makes both groups dear to my heart.

Frank Emanuel - Freedom Vineyard, Ottawa.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Going National

I'm pretty excited about the next little while for ThoughtWorks and the Vineyard in Canada. We have been doing a lot of hard work finding ways to get the tools you need into your hands. In terms of our core curriculum we now have associated Intensives that we can arrange for your local congregation. In fact each region has a bit of budget to help get these things off the ground. As always our passion is to equip your saints for all God has in store for us! More as this unfolds.

Another change that is coming soon is a new domain name (www.vineyardthoughtworks.org) has been purchased and we will be moving our website (hopefully in a spiffy new format) and this blog there. My hope is that we will have a completely integrated (and easily updated) web presence. As many of you know this blog was meant to be a pilot project, serving the region of Ontario. Rather than setting up regional ThoughtWorks blogs, we will be migrating this one to serve as the National ThoughtWorks Blog! That will give me more access to content providers. We'll definitely still feature what is happening in the various regions, but now everybody will get to enjoy this resource.

 Looking forward to serving you,
 Frank Emanuel for the National ThoughtWorks Team.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Right Beliefs are not Enough

In her excellent article, "Attending to the Gaps between Belief and Practices," Amy Plantinga Pauw makes a brilliant observation about Jonah. She notes that in spite of Jonah's exemplary beliefs about God, Jonah struggled terribly with his actions, that is how he put those beliefs into action. I've observed two things that this really helped me understand. First that we evangelicals are sometimes fanatical about getting the details of our beliefs just right. And second, that God rarely waits for us to have our beliefs perfect before acting with and through us. I'd like to explore this a wee bit in today's article.

The way that I've often expressed this obsession with right beliefs is as the evangelical quest for certainty. It is the age old quest really - how do I know that I'm really one of the saved? Different generations have answered this question differently- for instance the Protestant work ethic comes from the Calvinist notion that you know your are one of the "elect" if God is blessing you and that is no where more evident than in financial blessings. Leaving aside the difficulty that this posed for the poor in Switzerland, the result was an idea that working hard, earning lots demonstrated that one was "right" with God. We might laugh at that notion, but it has effected the fabric of our culture in ways we are often sadly oblivious too. I would claim that in our generation, marked by theologies of modern apologetics, we have turned the mark of being saved into one of having the "right" beliefs.

"Right" beliefs, sometimes called orthodoxy, is about what we believe about God, the world, humanity and the relationships between these three. The thing that frustrates me most is that the people I encounter who are the most obsessed with championing a particular version of these beliefs are also most often those least interested in acting out the practical and ethical implications of their beliefs. I've even had people try to "correct" my beliefs while I was about the business of demonstrating God's love through my actions. This is why I've often found the post-modern incredulity towards dogma to be helpful. Not that beliefs are not critically important - beliefs will always shape (and be shaped by) our actions. But when we make Christianity merely a religion of beliefs we completely miss the point of what God wants to do - and it just might be to preach an effective campaign of grace to our "enemies".

And then there is the case of those who just do, often with incredible results, yet often from a set of beliefs that leaves us shaking our heads. Gary Best has commented in the past that the Word of Faith people often see more healings despite their theology. Why is that? I know some would want to vilify the healings that happen amongst the more actively charismatic. But isn't that just a way of justifying our own inaction? The reality is that they see more because they ask more often. God isn't nearly as hung up about orthodoxy as we are. That doesn't mean God loves our ignorance - but God looks deeper than we do, God sees hearts. Personally, as someone who has come from the more actively Charismatic background, I have seen some of this shift in my own life and ministry. Really what we did in the past was a lot like shooting a shotgun. We saw lots of healings and other cool stuff simply because we would pray at the drop of a hat. We saw lots of unanswered prayers too, but often we would find ways of justifying those (sometimes to the emotional detriment of those we "ministered" to). Bottom line is that we had faith, but we also had beliefs, some of which were quite destructive to the lives of those who followed us. I had a friend even take his own life over the notions of holiness promoted in those groups! This is not trivial stuff.

The struggle we all have is how to connect beliefs to practice. Jonah's flight mirrors our own flight from what we know to be the implications of our beliefs (as in what our beliefs call us to do). If we really believe that God breaks into the world with real manifestations of the Kingdom - then why do we not pray at the drop of a hat? But, like Jonah, we run away afraid as much that it might happen (and we won't know how to deal with it) as that it might not happen. Perhaps this is exactly why Jonah's story is so endearing to us - it is after all the ubiquitous sunday school story. Perhaps it is because God knows this is the very dynamic we are called to struggle with. We are meant to keep both belief open to God, but grounded in what we already believe about God (look at what Jonah believed about God and God's character). We are meant to act both on what we believe and to act before we sort out all of what we believe. Jonah reminds us that God is patient yet relentless. Two sides of the same coin, so to speak. We are called to be strongly rooted in what we believe, but relentless in our quest for the truth (even when it changes our beliefs!) and we are equally called to be relentless about doing the works of God yet patient and expectant that God will shape and grow our beliefs as we act them out.

In the Vineyard we have tradition of trying to balance head and heart. For me, this is another way of expressing the tension I have described above. Heart is about what we do and head is indicative of what we know. Both aspects feed and spur on the other. A balance of head and heart means that one is open to the other, and vice versa. Hopefully this short message encourages you in your quest for the radical middle, to struggle with the living of the beliefs God is growing and maturing in our lives.

Frank Emanuel, Freedom Vineyard, Ottawa

Monday, October 17, 2011

Theological Debates:How Do We Handle Differences?

As you survey the world of Evangelicalism today, you will find a vast array of different theological and philosophical views. In fact if you take a look at our own movement, the Vineyard, you will see the same diversity. The thing is, theology matters. But not every theological debate is of equal worth. I wanted to look at four key points to keep in mind when dealing with issues of diversity, a bit of a priority checklist.

1) Differences Matter

The reason a person, or group, resonates so deeply with a theological or philosophical view is that it means something to them. In fact we know these particular beliefs go deep when we see, or experience in ourselves, the instant need to defend the belief. The reason is that beliefs, at a theological and philosophical level, are often tied to our understanding of ourselves and our relationship to the things that matter - God, family, church, community, etc. Knowing that differences matter does not mean that all differences are helpful, but it does mean we need to respect differing views as being important to those who hold them and understand why there is often resistance to alternate views.

2) People Matter More

Following on this, I think it is important that as a church movement our priority is pastoral not dogmatic. By that I mean that it is about people, loving people, providing space for people to encounter and fall more in love with God, equipping people - it is about the people. So while it seems logical that we should guard the dogmatic core, by which I mean the central theological understandings on which our movement is built, we need to recognize that if dogma gets in the way of fulfilling our calling to people - then we have a problem. Again, it is very important that we not lose our foundational theologies. In fact I am often concerned with the lack of understanding our churches have about the Kingdom teachings that so animated John Wimber. But the bottom line is that without people, the ones God so loved, it doesn't matter if your theology is top notch - you will only be a clanging gong.

3) The Main and the Plain

John Wimber often called us back to the main and the plain of the gospel. The Kingdom teachings and other foundational theologies are great. The experiential spirituality that engenders an expectation of God's Kingdom manifestation is awesome. But all that is meant to serve the church, to equip her and prepare her to partner with God in proclaiming the good news to all the world. We must never lose sight of the main and the plain.

4) There is Always Room to Grow

And finally we need to be prepared to have God (often through others) blow our grids! To open up our minds to new possibilities. To challenge even the very things we thought were fundamental to our faith. After all this is God's show, not ours. So our stance before difference should always be twofold: First we are confident in the God who holds our lives, our real trust lies there not in our theologies. And second, we should always be prepared to be changed by others, always open to the idea that they might have a different view of things that can be helpful, even crucial. In other words, we need always be prepared to grow. One day we will know completely, as we are already completely known, but this is not that day. That does not mean we stand on shaky ground or lose everything if we discover a central flaw in our understanding - what it means is that God cares enough to grace us with growth.

Let us rest in God, because in God's perfect love there is no fear.

Frank Emanuel - Freedom Vineyard, Ottawa.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

Enjoy your family, enjoy your friends, enjoy your life - and most of all enjoy the One who makes all of that possible.

Blessings from Thoughtworks Ontario.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Sporadic Posting Schedule

A bit of warning that posts might be a bit slow for a few weeks while I mark the first crop of papers from my large class. I'm always looking for articles to post, especially those of relevance to Ontario Vineyards.

In the meanwhile - don't forget to vote Ontario! Your vote is important, it is one way you demonstrate good citizenship. Pray and vote is always a great strategy.

 Have a great Thanksgiving!

 Frank Emanuel, Freedom Vineyard, Ottawa.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Book of Note: The History of Christian Thought

Over the last few weeks I've been lecturing on key thinkers throughout the history of Christianity in my Introduction to Theology course. It is a real whirlwind tour from the earliest days of the Church to the Second World War. My course is primarily on Contemporary (post-WWII) theologies so this quick survey allows the students to see how we get so many approaches to Christian theology. It is the ground out of which all contemporary theology has grown - both in appreciation of and reaction to what has already been done. To my delight a colleague at the school mentioned a book that had been used in a previous iteration of this course (this is my first time teaching it): Jonathan Hill's The History of Christian Thought. Jonathan covers quite a bit more ground than I am able to in a few lectures - but his focus is the same. He briefly, but substantially, documents key thinkers and events throughout the history of the Christian Church. Beginning with the influence of Greek philosophy and the work of Justin Martyr (where I started as well) he weaves a historical trail all the way to Postmodernity and important theological voices like Moltmann, Pannenberg and Rahner. While he is a bit light on the North American context there is a small section on Pentecostalism. He even includes a small glossary at the end of this 340 page book!

I heard about the book a few days before my own class was about to leave the Scholastic period and run headfirst into the Reformation. I sat down that night with the book starting from Luther (a bit less than half way) and just ate it up. I was done early the next morning (and yes I did sleep a full 7 hours!). Hill's style is not to get tied down in the technical and to balance the thought he is tracking with details about the lives of the individuals he highlights. I wish I had known of this book before, it would have made for an excellent textbook choice for my students! I think this book is a must for any church library or anyone just wanting to understand the twists and turns that Christian theology has taken as it tries to understand faith in an ever changing culture.

Do yourself a favour and let Hill guide you through the History of Christian Thought.

Frank Emanuel, Freedom Vineyard

Monday, September 19, 2011

Following Christ as the Heart of Theology

I've been teaching an Introduction to Theology course at Saint Paul University. I have almost forty students joining me on a journey through the history of Christian thought. It is amazing when you look at all the shifts and turns, conflicts and breakthroughs that mark the 2000+ years of Christianity. One thing is consistent throughout - other than the constancy of God's love that is - that is that God's people are able to find a relevant and profound voice of Christian faith in every shift of culture. It is not done through naive constancy, assuming Christianity never changes (only God has guaranteed to never change). Nor is it best found in our ever multiplying convictions to have found THE authentic (in our age this often means we believe it is historically authentic) expression of Christianity. It happens often in spite of our needless justifications. It happens because at the heart of every expression of Christianity is a desire to be faithful followers of Christ.

When we follow Christ we gain the courage (which I believe comes to us through the Holy Spirit) to seek understanding of what our faith means to our world today.

This is no small thing. It is how we partner with God in the project of declaring Good News to all of creation. It also should hearten us that God is never surprised by the changes in culture, nor is God ever afraid. Rather God finds amazing ways to accomplish God's redemptive purposes throughout all the earth - and God invites us to share in this work. When we follow Christ we participate with God in all that God is up to in the earth today. How exciting is that!

My hope for my class is that I will be able to convey some of the excitement I feel for deliberate theology. My hope for you all is that you will take the task of theology to heart and commit yourself to doing theology well - wherever God has placed you to be Good News. With courage, follow Christ into culture my friends, and be prepared to marvel at all God wants to do.

Frank Emanuel, Freedom Vineyard, Ottawa

Monday, September 12, 2011

Thoughtworks Assignments

With every Thoughtworks course we have provided an assignment. These assignments are meant to help you anchor the ideas you have learned through each course. Some are very practical, getting you to act on what you have learned. All include a short written piece. I wanted to say a few words about the written assignments.

First these assignments are meant to be the starting point of conversations between you and a mentor. It could be your pastor or another local Thoughtworks representative. Their role is not to correct or critique, but to foster a continuation of the faith seeking understanding mandate of our program. Often when we are reading these assignments we can see the questions that the student has made and maybe get a sense of ones they haven't. Your mentor can encourage you both in what you have explored and in what you can explore next. Learning to think theologically is not about settling the answers for a set of problems, but of exploring the gift of faith that has the potential to throw mountains into the sea! Which I think is meant for us to not limit faith, or stop trying to understand how our faith can lead us into deeper understandings of all God wants to do in our world.

Second is that these assignments are not meant to be academic papers. No one is going to assign you a letter grade or criticize your writing ability. It is meant to help you articulate what it is you were engaging with during the course or readings. It is really just a starting point to continue the journey of growth that these courses open up to each of us. Our passion at Thoughtworks is to make equipping resources that will be both accessible and practical for everyone in our congregations.

I hope that you will give one of our programs a try.

Frank Emanuel, Ontario Thoughtworks Representative, Freedom Vineyard, Ottawa.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Community - It's a Value

Recently my wife and I have been chatting about community. Specifically what it is we are wanting from the communities we participate in. This summer our church, Freedom Vineyard, decided not run any small groups - a tough decision but it has been really worthwhile having a break and a chance to reflect on the last ten years. During those years there are things we've done well and things we've not done well. Important stuff to reflect on, hard as it was to step back in order to do that. One of the ideas I keep coming back to is that of community. Community to me is a place where it is not just one or two people doing everything, but a group of people who together shape and enact what it means to them to be the Church. Sure I love the worship aspect, and even teaching on a regular basis - but without a strong community those things can too easily become a burden to the few. I'm convinced that running church like that is not sustainable in the long run, the burnout I was feeling at the start of the summer was testimony to this being true.

I'm about to invite folks to gather and pray about what God might want to do with Freedom Vineyard this fall. While I am confident that God has no end of great plans for each of us individually - I am open to the idea that this might not be enough to run another small group just yet. Actually in the past many of our groups literally formed themselves as people gained a vision for what God was inviting them into as a community. We've had some really amazing groups over the years and I am sure we will have more in the future. But most of all I want to participate in communities that are gathered around God's purposes, especially in participating in God's redemptive work of grace throughout the world. That's the stuff that gets me excited!

Part of what sparked the conversation was meeting up with a couple who had been part of one of our early Freedom Vineyard communities. A really great couple who had moved over from England after being part of the Vineyard there. This weekend I could sense in them the same longing for community that I saw in myself. It renews in me a sense of what is possible from the Church, that is fostering communities with Kingdom purpose. It also restores in me a determination to not settle for less than community that follows God's invitation to Kingdom works. When I call for our people to gather and pray I will ask them what is God calling them listening for the common threads that might knit together another community and small group.

My prayer at this time is for God, in God's time, to draw the right people together to create community in which me and my family can thrive. A community that will allow us to become all that God wants us to be. After all that is the mission that has been at the heart of Freedom Vineyard since the beginning - helping you become all you can be in Christ.

What kind of community are you longing for?

* The images are from Freedom Vineyard gatherings. The first is a conference we put on back in 2004. The second is from a wedding for a couple who have been long time members of Freedom. Many of the face have changed over the years, when I reflect back there are so many amazing people we've had the privilege of walking with. My hope is that there will continue to be many more.

Monday, August 29, 2011

New Thread Proposal

I want to start a new thread about heroes to your faith. Who are the people who have radically shaped your faith in God? I'm sure you can come up with one or two who have really meant the world to you. Well we need to hear these stories. We need to remind each other of the profound impact we have on each other - sometimes without really knowing it. Here is the deal, if someone comes to mind then send me an email church(a)freedomvineyard.com. Tell me a bit about who this person is, how you encountered them (they can even be people you have never met in the flesh), and describe the impact they have had on your faith. I'd like to post about one a month. There is nothing like spurring each other on towards love and the good work of the Kingdom.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Value of Study

I'm sitting in a coffee shop preparing next semester's courses. What a privilege to pour through various books and articles as I tease out the nuances of the subjects I'm going to teach (Introduction to Theology and Christian Spirituality at a local university). The reasons I have to read are immensely practical - that is they all are for a goal I have in mind. So I can quickly tell if an article or chapter is going to be helpful or not. That is primarily what turns a task that could be an odious chore (I can spend upwards of 14 hours on a 3 hour lecture!) into a task of joy.



When we set out to study we know we are undertaking a noble task. But when we fail to connect the texts we are reading to the things we are trying to do the resulting disconnection can sap the life right out of the process. I wonder if this isn't the reason why study is not as valued as it should be for many Christians. If you find yourself dreading the very idea of studying then consider these tips, they might be just what you need to pull open that book you have been avoiding. I hope that they can help foster an atmosphere of diligent study so that we will all be approved workers of God's Word, the Word that transforms everything!



1) Know when to stop. No one should feel forced to finish a text - that will just discourage you from continuing to read and learn. If you are not connecting with a book you have two viable options. A) you can drop it. Seriously, the book might be great for another time and it might have helped out oodles of your friends, but if it isn't connecting now then it is not going to give life. B) skim to see if what you hoped for isn't just waiting beyond the next paragraph, chapter or section. Study does not mean reading every word - it means understanding what you need to understand from a text. If you are a student understanding what is going on in a text is way more important than having read every single word. Find the stuff that gives life and sometimes it will draw you back to how the author got there - if not take the best and forget the rest.



2) Read while it gives life - ponder lots. That means go for quality over quantity. You would be much better off if, when you read something that seems to resonate deep within, you stopped and pondered why and how this bit of text is resonating with you. Take it to prayer, some of my best conversations with God spring out of such times. The object is not to learn a bunch of stuff - but for us, as pastors and leaders, to be transformed by God so that we can better serve God's purposes in this world. Sometimes a single idea can completely overturn our whole outlook on life!



3) Don't be afraid of dead ends. Sometimes we get caught in the trap that everything we do must have some sort of 'fruitful' conclusion.* Pruning is fruitful - it makes way for better fruit to come and strengthens the whole vine. One of my favourite theologians, Jurgen Moltmann, will sometimes explore ideas until they fail. When an idea fails it can fall off and makes way for new ideas to grow and produce the fruit of wisdom that God is hoping to produce in our lives.



I hope these tips encourage you to study on your terms. To not let unreasonable expectations rob you of the joy of study (nor of its benefits). That you will be able to chase down what God is really saying to you as you study - even if that word is "this idea needs to be pruned." The Bible exhorts us to get wisdom at any cost - I hope and trust that your study will bring you great wisdom and that all you do for Christ will richly benefit from that wisdom.



Be blessed as you study!



Frank Emanuel, Freedom Vineyard, Ottawa.



* I suggest reading Schaeffer's Addicted to Modernity for some keen insights into the problems with utilitarian thinking among evangelicals. It's a great read.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Book of Note: How We Decide

Jonah Lehrer is a contemporary thinker who is worth keeping an eye on. Not only has he written two excellent and accessible books, also he often posts provocative and interesting articles at his Wired blog (he's the science writer for Wired magazine). I was really happy to get a copy of his latest book, How We Decide, last Christmas. I wanted to dive right into it, but leisure reading usually only happens in the summer. So Jonah came on vacation with me.



One of the big influences on this book is Damasio's Descarte's Error. I have that book and the genius of Lehrer is to take the writings of neurologists, other scientists and even philosophers and make them accessible to a general audience. He even makes the insights of such people relevant to the lives we are living now. How We Decide is actually about how we decide. Lehrer tells the anecdote about wasting an afternoon trying to decide what kind of cheerios to buy - I can relate to the feeling of being overwhelmed by choice. What Lehrer discovers is that we decide with our emotional brains more so than our rational brains. In fact studies show that folks who sustain damage to their emotion centers are actually unable to make good decisions - you often cannot reason your way to a decision like you think you can. So much for idolizing Mr. Spock from Star Trek! This does not rule out the role of reason, but it does mean we delude ourselves when we think rational thought this is the most important part of making choices.



One of the immediate applications for this is in terms of our understanding of what is certainty. If Lehrer is right, then certainty usually indicates an emotional commitment to an idea or ideology. The idea or ideology might be good - but the emotional commitment prevents our rational interaction with those ideas. This is why ideologies are so hard to change. Challenge a preacher's favourite doctrine if you want to see what this means. Our first response to having our certain ideas challenged is to defend (and then justify) our certainty in them. Sometimes we can fight that urge down long enough to have a conversation but the presence of this urge should flag to us an emotional commitment not a rational conclusion.



I am not saying that certainty is a bad thing (although if we are certain of something wrong it could well be) but that strength of commitment does not establish truth. For me the upshot is that with a little less defense of certainty we can maybe focus instead on living out our commitments to see what ones really hold us and bring us (and others) freedom, health, wholeness, hope, and joy. Recognizing how certainty functions can also allow us to hold the less important aspects of our beliefs a little looser so that we can find better patterns of cooperation with other evangelicals to do the things that are really important to God and the world God loves. At the very least Lehrer will invite us to have this conversation about certainty with a better understanding of how our minds actually work.



I really enjoyed this book, I think that you will too.



Frank Emanuel, Freedom Vineyard

Monday, August 8, 2011

Blogs that get you Thinking

Last time in this series I promised some blogs about doing-the-stuff. I would actually love to have a lot of links to blogs that talk about a variety of ministries that will encourage us. However, this time I'm focusing on the "doing" of going into all the world. I want to highlight the blog of a missionary family that is about to launch out on the adventure and the blog of a missions organization started by a friend of mine. Let me introduce you to some folks who are doing-the-stuff as missionaries!

Last Pastors' gathering (Ontario Vineyard Leaders Retreat in Bancroft) I met the Snells. This adventurous couple from the Cambridge Vineyard are heading to Brazil with their kids. They will be serving the Xingu mission in Marabá. A place they have already been to, helping build a church facility, and has captured their hearts. Phil and Jen met at a primate reserve in Africa (how cool is that?) so adventure is definitely in their blood. Why not consider supporting them as they launch out in obedience to God?

The other family I want to point you to are veterans to missions as well as taking kids with them into their mission field. Al and Joanne, along with a growing family, landed in Thailand as missionaries with YWAM (last time I counted they had seven kids and I think Joanne is expecting). Since landing in Thailand, they've started and run a mission called Compasio. The Compasio blog is here. I've known Al Brown for many years now - he and Shane Jolley ran an interdenominational youth worship ministry called Ottawa Youth Alive (OYA). I used to help out a lot with sound and even played guitar for events a few times. Then all of us ended up settling into careers and "normal" life. Al ran a successful IT company until he had the realization that if he didn't go into the mission field now he might never do it. So he sold the business and headed off to YWAM. Through YWAM Al and Joanne went to Thailand with a passion to rescue young girls sold into the sex trade. As years went on that ministry grew into Compasio which, amongst other things, has a tremendous impact on the refugees that come to Thailand for refuge often only to face abuse. Keeping tabs on the Compasio blog will ensure that your heart will not grow hard to the countless at risk people that Jesus died for. Al and Joanne are home for a year and I'm sure they would love to come share with your congregation - I try to get Al out to Freedom to speak whenever he is back in Canada, it is always worth it.

Keep those hearts tender and your ears open - who knows whom God will call you to be good news to!

Frank Emanuel - Freedom Vineyard, Ottawa

PS. I am running out of blogs that I want to pass along - please send me your suggestions so I can keep this series running. Thanks.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Weekly Post Delayed - God in the Media

I haven't had time to put together the post for this week yet. I blame it on summer. I'll get something out mid-week - another installment of Blogs that Get You Thinking! I'm still waiting on some content that has been promised to me, must be summer all around.

In the meantime - I wonder what you think about the post I did on the movie The Adjustment Bureau. If you haven't seen the movie I must warn you the post is full of spoilers. But I think one of the ways we are practicing theologians is when we look for the ways that God is being presented in media. I've actually been known to take guys to action films and talk about why the gospel theme of death and resurrection is so prevalent in such films. Makes for great conversation. If we don't talk about how God is being portrayed then we risk letting media colour our God concepts through subversion. Some food for thought.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Social Media

I've spoken about blogs and facebook, but the evolving world of social media is continually bringing us new ways of connecting. Recently, and reluctantly, I accepted an invitation to join Google+. (Let me know if you want an invite.) So I'll talk a bit about my take on Google+ as well as on Twitter as I've also been a Twit for quite a while now. Whether you choose to use social media or not it is good to be aware of what's out there and how you might be able to leverage it in your ministry.

Twitter

I have been tweeting under the name PomoRev for a few years now. I know a lot of people like Twitter and keep it streaming on their desktops. I tried this for a bit but found it way too distracting. I do like to drop in on it once and a while and see what is trending. Trending is basically a snapshot of what topics people are talking about the most.

What Twitter is really good for is sparking ideas. Writing a tweet, which is a message within 140 characters (including spaces!), forces you to write concisely. Some people are really good at Tweeting. I use Twitter almost exclusively to put up pithy quotes from books I'm reading. Stuff that really gets me thinking. It helps me remember the quote (to type it out) and it sometimes generates neat conversations. The thing to realize with Twitter is that it is like shooting a shotgun at a distant target. Sure you might hit it, but a lot of tweets just evaporate and some hit unexpected targets as well.

Google+

Google+ is a whole different beast. Right now it seems more like a social media connector with filters. While I don't see a lot of native content, it does capture lots of linking to content in other forms and at other locations (blogs, etc.). What is different about Google+ is that you have a lot more flexibility for who you pass on content to and filtering the content you follow from other people.

The main filter is in how you set up your contacts (what facebook calls 'friends'). Google lets you organize all the people you want to network with in a variety of ways. You can put some in family, some in friends (those you feel you can share deeply with, unlike facebook's friends' concept), some in acquaintances, some in a group called following, you can even make more groups - I have one for ministry contacts, academic contacts, and even gamers. You can place folks in more than one circle - which is helpful. Also, and this is important, no one knows what circle(s) you put them in.

Circles are used when you post status updates or link things like blog posts you like. Circles dictate who can see what you have done. Circles are also used to limit what goes in the streams you want to look at. So if you really like a few bloggers and just want to see what they've linked lately put them in the following circle and click that stream. Voila you have a window into just their online lives.

There also seems to be a move towards collaboration in Google+. The way it is set up makes it great for forming working groups and teams that you can deal with directly without getting them all mixed up with the rest of the social media crowd. (I still think that one needs to realize that all online media is in some ways public.) And Google+ includes a tool for setting up chat/video groups called hangouts. I haven't tried this yet, but I'm thinking of setting something up soon with people I normally Skype.

I think Google+ has potential for being a helpful tool. But it will depend entirely on who chooses to use it. I know my own church dragged me onto facebook - I did the myspace way back in the day and was not intending on going near facebook. But in retrospect facebook has been a good tool even if it is full of distractions. I still find myself going to facebook for updates on the people I can't see as much as I'd like. So far Google+ isn't that helpful yet and the few Google+ folk I like to keep tabs on are also doing the same stuff on facebook.

Hope this is helpful. Next week I'm hoping to have another installment of Blogs That Get You Thinking.

Frank Emanuel, Freedom Vineyard, Ottawa.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Mentoring with Feeling

While I am involved in mentoring a number of folk, mostly outside of our local church context, it always surprises me when folks I have a mentoring relationship with approach me to walk through something but feel terribly guilty about asking. The reality is that mentoring people is incredibly encouraging for the one doing the mentoring. The people I have chosen to mentor are not taking life from me - they are giving it to me.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

What's Difficult About the Gospel?

I just returned from holidays and am lining up some content for the following weeks. In the meantime this is what I've been reflecting on lately.

Sometimes I feel like we’ve simplified the guts right out of the gospel. In our effort to communicate something of the good news to the people God puts in our lives there is a temptation to gloss over the demands that the gospel makes on anyone who embraces it. As Paul tells us in Romans, the only reasonable response to the gospel is to present our whole selves to God. Anything less is not enough. I’ve been reflecting on this recently on my own blog and evaluating my own presentation of the gospel to those God has given me to love.

There is a certain danger in missing this important part of the gospel. That danger is that eventually those we share our gospel messages with will catch on to the actual cost of the gospel. It is helpful at this point to note that Jesus never sells it short in the gospels. All that talk about taking up our crosses is not about lapel pins. More and more often I am running into Christians who feel that Christianity did not turn out to be what they were told it was – and tragically they have invested many years into something that just does not work. In the worst of these cases the folk have given up on their faith, or at least in the institutions that should be life giving to their faith. The best cases end up with folk finding new ways of taking the gospel’s claims serious. While any misrepresentation of the gospel is tragic, I think the lesson we can learn is that we need to find better ways to communicate the gospel in its entirety.

John Wimber once said that a faulty gospel produces faulty Christians. Such an insight should cause us to always be vigilant as to the content and character of the gospel we preach. Let’s face it, we do not always get it right and different seasons bring out different aspects of the gospel. Our responsibility is to take seriously the need to continually reflect on and refine our understanding of the gospel. This is a serious charge we have been given. I personally think that this is now a season where God is calling us to consider the cost of the gospel and make that part, once again, of the content of the gospel we share with the people God leads us to.

Frank Emanuel, Freedom Vineyard, Ottawa.

Monday, July 11, 2011

On Vacation

I just realized that I hadn't scheduled anything for today. I am on vacation. I'll try to have something at the regular time next week. Enjoy the summer!

Frank Emanuel - Freedom Vineyard, Ottawa

Monday, July 4, 2011

Intensives - Thoughtworks Serving Your Community

One of the great things we get to do with Thoughtworks is bring top-notch training to your churches. Intensives are easy to put together and can be very enriching for your church and the churches in your area. Here's what you do.

1) Identify a need. The best training is timely and directed at the needs of the community. It also makes it much easier on the equippers if the group they are training is already invested in getting the most out of their training. Often training will include some pre-work (usually reading) so that the conversations can be richer and deeper. Among the areas Thoughtworks can help includes: pastoral care, biblical foundations, gaining a historical context, training in preaching and teaching, providing theological foundations, deepening faith, and others. Rather than being committed to a pre-sett inflexible programme, Thoughtworks seeks to serve the needs unique to your community.

2) Contact your Thoughtworks Rep. This is what we are here for - helping your congregation mature and flourish. We will help you figure out who best can deliver an intensive suited to your needs. We can help.

3) Choose a time and venue. A typical intensive is done on a weekend. Usually the whole day Saturday. Your role will be to provide the venue and make sure it is conducive to running the intensive you have asked for. We can work with you to make sure you know what is required.

4) Get the word out. We will help with this too. Most intensives will primarily draw from your church and the churches close by, after all the needs of communities are not all the same. Events like this a better together, so why not offer the opportunity to your neighbours? I am sure they will thank you for it. Wouldn't it be awesome if our churches were instrumental in bringing quality training to all the churches around us? We will also advertise on this blog and help you get the message out through other social media.

5) Reap the benefits. An equipped church is a confident church. In the Vineyard we love the idea that everybody plays - but we also love the idea of equipping the saints so that they can play better. This is the piece that is so important for the future of our communities. Our goal is not just a transfer of knowledge, but to ignite the spark of Kingdom possibilities in every person we can. Imagine what an equipped and confident church can do in your neighbourhoods? Imagine what we can do in out nation? Imagine what God calls us to participate in throughout the whole world! Let Your Kingdom come.

Looking forward to seeing you at a Thoughtworks intensive soon!

Frank Emanuel, Freedom Vineyard, Ottawa.

Note: the picture is Larry Levy (Halifax Metro Vineyard), I used it cause I like Larry a lot and he embodies the kind of down to earth passion for teaching that I am trying to promote here.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Thoughtworks Curriculum - Working For You

Ancient-Future Church Year 1 - Quest for the Radical Middle

Because all theology is done in a context - it is really important for us to know our own context. That is exactly what this course is all about. Here Bill Jackson details the history of the Vineyard movement without glossing over the difficult bits. Case in point is the appendix on Lonnie Frisbee, aka that young man. Bill does the Vineyard a real service with this book.

One of the difficulties with any young movement is communicating exactly what makes us unique. Many have come to the Vineyard because of the great experiences they've had with Vineyard folks. Unfortunately, many of those people also come in expecting the Vineyard to be something other than it really is. I still get surprised looks when I describe the Vineyard as a conservative evangelical denomination. One of the beautiful things about the Vineyard has been its ability to bless a diverse segment of the Church - often without imposing our unique theological perspective on others. Really we've been good at helping the church experience the empowering presence of God's Spirit. I love that. But being blessed by the Vineyard and being Vineyard are not always synonymous.

Jackson delineates important Vineyard perspectives such as a center-set ecclesiology (idea of church) and an emphasis on the inaugurated-enacted reign of God. These things differentiate the Vineyard from its respected pentecostal and evangelical kin. Jackson also shows how this differentiation has played out in the Vineyard's brief history. I'm thinking of our short-lived relationship with the Kansas City prophets. A clearer articulation of the Vineyard's core understanding of Kingdom might have made that moment a bit less painful. In any event it was an opportunity for Vineyards to return to their theological center.

I have used Jackson's book as a basic text in teaching Vineyard history to leaders in training. It reads easily, presents a fair depiction of the Vineyard, and gives us the background each of us needs to understand our own relationship to the Vineyard family. I highly recommend that every Vineyard person read this book, regardless of if you do it as a Thoughtworks course. But if you are going to read it...

If I could recommend a companion to this book it would be Carol Wimber's John Wimber: The Way It Was.

Frank Emanuel, Freedom Vineyard, Ottawa.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Family and Stories

We recently had our annual Ontario Regional Vineyard Pastors Retreat. As always it is wonderful to see dear friends, pray and worship together, and just be refreshed. There are always some churches doing really well and others struggling along - this year my own congregation was amongst the strugglers. The format this year allowed each of our churches to share just where they are at - and to have the whole gathered community surround them in prayer. It was incredibly encouraging. I am struck by a few strengths of our region, I want to highlight them here.

Love

Did you ever have someone you respect embrace you and tell you honestly that they loved and appreciated you? The amazing thing is that I get that a lot from these Vineyard leaders. And I feel the love for them right back. The feeling of family is what brought me to the Vineyard, and it has been well warranted. This year I was able to bring my wife and a couple co-leaders, to see them also embraced as family is incredibly enriching. It isn't that these folks are interested in what we are doing, but they are interested in us as individuals. There is something God-like in love like that.

Diversity

The thing about family is that family is not about everyone being the same. Sometimes even I feel like quirky uncle Phil experimenting with what it means to be Vineyard in Ottawa. But wouldn't family without quirky uncle Phil be so boring? Regardless, I need to say that, despite my own flavour of Kingdom risk taking, I have never felt anything but support from this family. I really appreciate that each church is unique. Take it from someone who has pushed a few boundaries (and made more than a few mistakes) the willingness to not reign everyone into a box is amazing. The diversity that flourishes in this environment will ensure that we will continue to be a testimony to our great God for generations to come. I am so grateful for the opportunity to serve such a rich and diverse community of churches.

Faithfulness

You don't get this far by not being faithful. Not only are we genuinely committed to each other, this region is full of leaders who are committed to the long haul in the communities God has led them to. Year after year the same core group of leaders faithfully come and share. Sure there are new faces and a few that drop off, but there is a consistency. It is not all new every year. And what's better still, the new ones that arrive are brought in through the model of faithfulness already present in the group.

I want to end by echoing a proclamation God has made over our region: God is not done with the Vineyard in Ontario. I look forward to seeing God's plans unfold in our region and I couldn't dream of a better group of people to enter into that future with than the folks who lead our Vineyards.

Frank Emanuel, Freedom Vineyard (Ottawa)

Monday, June 13, 2011

New Feature - Now With Mobile Template

Now you can get your Regional Thoughtworks Blog fix on your mobile devices! Don't miss an article ever again.

If you have been inspired by any of our articles then why not consider adding one of your own. This is a blog for the region, by the region. Let's live out Ephesians 4:11-13.
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (NIV)

Monday, June 6, 2011

Giving Away Your Best

I’ve been thinking about this Wimberism a lot lately. John taught us to give away our best. It is one of those sayings that can either be just a nice platitude or it can really shape everything you do. In retrospect I think it is something we’ve done intentionally and unintentionally in our years with the Vineyard. So I want to offer a few observations about giving away your best.

It hurts. I’ll start with the hard obvious one. We all love the stories of how we give away our savings or a worship leader only to have God turn around and give you something even better. I’ve certainly had quite a few of those experiences. But the bottom line is that you never give to get. And sometimes you don’t get something to replace what you’ve given away. That doesn’t mean you missed God, that means you gave away something really costly. When you get it back it didn’t cost you anything. But when you don’t get it back you can experience a whole different kind of blessing. The blessing of pain. And I am not being facetious, this is a blessing. I don’t think we’d treasure near as much the moments when God gives back if there was never moments when God just accepted our offering. And it becomes too easy to take for granted the gifts you have when they are disposable.

We’ve given up quite a few worship leaders over the years. I was listening to a CD from one of them today even. I wouldn’t give up the time they spent with us blessing us with the gift of heartfelt worship in song. But how much more do I value the gift we’ve given to the church in Ottawa through our obedience. The worship leader I was listening to today has been training worship leaders for another church in the city – he could never have done that if we weren’t willing to embrace the pain of giving him up. Giving away your best hurts.

Would you want to give God anything less? I really think that we need to have this perspective about giving away the best. When we give it is really as an offering to God. I’m reminded of Paul’s words to the church in Rome about what a reasonable act of worship is. Presenting ourselves as living sacrifices means there is no holding back. Whatever God wants is what we give. And anything less is really not an acceptable gift for so great a King. This needs to apply to everything about our lives. God calls us to what theologians call a cruciform life. That is a life shaped and marked by the selfless giving of God’s self through the cross. To be cruciform is to emulate this by offering ourselves fully and completely to God. I think Paul is right, this is the only reasonable act of worship.

Whose Kingdom is it anyway? This is really what it comes down to. We sometimes have this notion that the Kingdom of God is something we build. It isn’t. Sure we get to participate in what God is doing. But the Kingdom is all God’s. So we are really only ever giving what is God’s. It hurts because it is shaping us. It is true worship because it makes us into God’s cruciform people. We give away the best because, that is what the Kingdom looks like. The Kingdom is the selfless love of God made manifest. It can never look like our own selfish little kingdoms. It has to look like Jesus, through and through.

Monday, May 30, 2011

All of the Psalms

A number of months ago, I began a project that I suspected at the time would last about three years. The project? To put the entire collection of biblical psalms into modern song. The rules? Move through them sequentially, 1-150, with minimal alterations in text, omitting none of uncomfortable stuff. I’ve allowed myself to select from any of the widely accepted translations, though so far the NIV has been the primary translation I’ve worked from, simply because the language seems to translate into song better than the others. My initial goal was to put one psalm to music per week. I started the project in September and I’ve currently posted the first 8 psalms. It currently being May I’m clearly behind that rather lofty pace, although I’m not daunted by the goal. Whether three years or ten, God willing, it will get done.

The challenges are significant. Non-metered poetry is a nightmare to put to song. There is no rhyme scheme. The subject matter is often full of vindictive tribal violence, political whining and family drama. King David, the primary author of the psalms, often comes across as bi-polar, creating a profound challenge creatively. How exactly does one create appropriate musical context for poetry that extols the glory of God in one sentence, and follows immediately with a call for the destruction of the children of one’s enemies in the next?

Why have I undertaken to do this?

I’ve been a worship leader in Vineyard churches for nearly 20 years. During that time, I’ve encountered the glory hidden in the psalms over and over again. I can think of no other source material that has so influenced how we worship God. Nearly every worship song I can think of is in some significant way derived from the psalms. This is as it should be, in my opinion.

And yet...

And yet we aren’t totally honest with ourselves in our reading of these wonderful, glorious, complicated, bloody and occasionally horrific scriptures. We tend to pick and choose the “nice” bits and leave the messy stuff behind. I understand why we do it, and on one hand I don’t question the practice. It is often appropriate to simply reflect on the glory of God. The messiness of life is pretty self evident in our day-to-day existence. There’s no need to highlight it in song and sully our “God time”. But I also feel challenged to find a way take the bitter material with the sweet; the angry with the compassionate; to find a way to make room for the plea for murderous revenge against oppressors and keep it in step with earnest supplications of protection for the poor and helpless. And what of self-righteous boasting before God, judgement of others and utterly broken repentance for heinous crimes? Apparently, these are all acceptable spices in the ingredients of praise... often all pouring from the same heart, at the same time. Who knew?

And so, the AllOfThePsalms.com project.

This project has already had a deep effect on me, and I’ve hardly even started. Each psalm, taken in its entirety as a complete work of worshipful creativity, speaks to a breadth of the God/ Human relationship that eclipses the narrow sacred/secular divide that is the trademark of much western Christian spirituality. God can’t possibly be engaged with the dark emotions can He? Hate, Envy, Greed, Fear, Domination, Aggression - these are the anti-matter of the redemption story aren’t they? Irredeemable, right? Couldn’t possibly find a place in a worshipful heart, correct? Well... the psalms point to answers that are uncomfortable for my domesticated soul. They seem to suggest that the conflicts of the soul need not be resolved before we enter the holy place of dialogue with God. They hint that it’s okay to bring dusty, muddy, blood stained garments into the presence of the Lord of Glory. But, we protest, won’t they tarnish the sheen of the courts of heaven? Won’t they corrupt the luster of Christ’s throne? David and his co-writers seem not to share our concern. They are constantly the mess of heaven and it appears that they get invited back over and over again.

So, I invite you to join me as I jump into the mystery of praise, worship, prayer, repentance, anger-management and holy creativity through a musical exploration of the psalms... all of them.

Kris MacQueen, Cambridge Vineyard

Monday, May 23, 2011

Blogs that get you Thinking

As promised I am going to feature a couple blogs from the US. The Vineyard was born in Southern California, and while I know the Canadian Vineyard has forged a unique identity within the Vineyard family we still draw from our roots south of the 49th parallel. I'm sure there are many other excellent blogs from US Vineyard leaders out there, these are just two that I've found helpful voices along the journey.

I start with Jason Coker's often edgy blog - Pastoralia. I think I first encountered Jason through blog comments when I was exploring emerging church voices while researching my master's thesis. We certainly seem to follow a lot of the same bloggers. Jason and his wife Jenell pastored the recently closed the missional Vineyard Ikon (San Diego). Jason's recent reflections on the closing of his church are worth reading (and I'm not the only one saying this). There is a depth of maturity expressed in what he calls an autopsy of his church plant. Jason is also an active participant in the Society of Vineyard Scholars and has reflected on the work done there. Plus his space preacher banner rocks!

Jumping to the other side of the country, I virtually met Steven Hamilton after he read an article I wrote for Inside Worship ("Towards a Post-modern Liturgy"). His blog Verve & Verse is always full of rich reflections on life, faith, worship and pastoral theology. Another participant in the Society of Vineyard Scholars, Steven has a sharp mind and a passionate voice. He serves in the Vineyard Community Church of Central Maryland. I think you will find his blog a rich repository of reflections. (Plus he is boldly bald like myself!)

Next time I will focus on blogs that exhibit the Vineyard value of doing the stuff! As always I'm looking forward to your blog suggestions as well as comments.

Frank Emanuel - Freedom Vineyard, Ottawa

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Technocrati Claim

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Teaser

Just a quick heads up about an upcoming post by Kris MacQueen (Cambridge Vineyard) on his exciting project of putting all the Psalms to music! An excellent example of the creative ways our folk are deepening their relationship with Scripture. Watch for it. In the meantime why not check out the Songshare website we featured here. Kris is one of the passionate minds behind this resource. He has a strong desire to see a new generation of excellent Canadian Vineyard worship.

I am also working on gathering some articles dealing with doing missions - at home and abroad. It is shaping up to be an exciting summer on the Ontario Thoughtworks blog. Perhaps some of these areas are passions for you too? Want to share an excellent resource you've found? Maybe you want to share your experiences doing the works of the Kingdom? I'm always looking for fresh material to share with our region (just click on my name below and let me know what has hooked your heart).

Keep faithful my friends.

Frank Emanuel, Freedom Vineyard

Monday, May 16, 2011

Book of Note: Revise Us Again

This review originally appeared at Matte Downey's blog outWORD. Used with permission.

=================

I recently ordered a book by Frank Viola called Revise Us Again: Living From a Renewed Christian Script. The agreement was that I would get a free copy in return for reviewing it here on my blog (thanks to Speak Easy bloggers). Good deal, right? I had read bits and pieces of Viola's writing before - most of it I found to be prodding and often provocative rhetoric that sought to point the church in a more authentic and biblical direction. There were several glowing endorsements of the book in the email that notified me of the book's availability for review, so I took the bait.

What follows are my candid and honest opinions. You need not agree with my assessments and thoughts, but I offer them here for your consideration. First, let me say that Viola is by all indications a lover of Jesus dedicated to the purity and authenticity of the Church. That's a good thing. He hits his stride in a few places on this theme of revision: in chapter 6 he uses personal experience and numerous examples from the Bible as well as influential historical figures to develop very helpful delineations of the reality of God's presence. These are clear, concise, and serve to clarify much of the confusing language we often hear on this topic (briefly, here are his 4 distinctions: God as actually present with his people, a perceptible sense of God's presence, setting one's mind and heart actively on his presence, and the unnoticed but ever-present consciousness of God's presence).

The afterword is chock full of scriptures which illustrate the point Viola has been trying to make in the preceding 10 chapters: that our life script must come from our identity in Christ, and all actions and attitudes should naturally flow out from this realization. Those are the really good parts of the book.

Sadly, much of the rest of this easy-to-read volume finds Viola vacillating between being too general and then offering overly detailed, specific scenarios; the result is that much of the book is hard to identify with unless you are an American who has been steeped in a variety of the contemporary Christian worldviews prevalent in the USA. He assumes that we share many of his experiences, but it is just not so, Frank. He also begins most every chapter with neat and negative categories of what is wrong with current Christian thought and practice. All of us have a religious heritage which has conditioned us towards these unhelpful and inadequate mindsets, he assumes, and I venture to say that this assumption is too narrow.

No doubt the audience that he is writing for (Bible-belt or cultural Christians looking for a fresh and authentic perspective, perhaps?) will find much of what he says helpful. That's good! But unfortunately, Viola's main weakness is his failure to follow the very principle that he is putting forth: that it all begins with our true identity in Christ. Again and again, he begins addressing an issue by drawing lines such as those between libertines and legalists; he makes boxes and then herds what he calls charismatics, quoters, and pragmatics into them. None of them are getting it right, of course. Much of the time Viola uses a deconstructionist methodology which, at least in my opinion, fights against his main theme of changing how we think about who we are. While he purports that all must start with Christ, he seldom does.

Some of the generalities that I found irksome (sorry, Frank) were that Viola tends to make sweeping assumptions like "a large portion of the Christian world today has neglected a number of vital elements of the gospel" (page 58). There is no support for or explanation of statements such as this. Also, there is no definition or clarification of many of the terms he uses such as fundamentalist and literalist and we are left to assume that he is using them in a rather loose, colloquial sense.

Viola draws on a rather broad pool of references for this small book, and unfortunately, seems not to have done his research on a number of them. He is not careful with words either, sometimes choosing a clever turn of phrase over an informative and clarifying one. At one point he has a fictional stereotypical figure refer to "the subjective soup of mysticism" and becoming "lost in the sauce" (page 48). A very evocative word picture, yes, but as a student of mysticism, I can authoritatively say that it is not an accurate or informed one, even if it was coming from a fictional character. At another point when he is talking about old wineskins versus new wineskins, he states that "the new wine is always better than the old wine" (page 113). I have never heard a wine connoisseur utter those words, in fact, they all pretty much say just the opposite. Perhaps Viola is referring to a spiritual principle here, but he never explains it, so the phrase just leaves one puzzled because it is so counter-intuitive.

When Viola concentrates on the centrality of Christ, the book flows wonderfully and inspires the reader to let all of life be moored to this simple truth. However, when he spends page after page chopping contemporary Christian experience and culture into bite-sized pieces and analyzing their lack of nutritional content, the theme gets lost. Perhaps a kind but rigorous editor might have helped him keep on topic as well as take more care to exemplify his theme. The book would be much better served if it were characterised by more renewing language (as the title suggests) instead of being so focused on deconstruction.

Thanks for the read.

Matte Downey, Église Vineyard Montréal Church

Monday, May 9, 2011

How Bible Studies Can Help Your Community

I've had the pleasure of hanging out a bit with my Calvary Chapel buddy Andy. He's always encouraging me with his passion for the Bible and sharing the Bible with others. I think we have a lot to learn from Andy, I think sometimes we've given up on Bible Studies and the result is that many of our people simply do not have a good grasp of scripture. I hope this post will encourage you to think again about running Bible Studies in your congregations.

Frank asked me to share our experience in using Bible Studies to see both outreach and the church grow here in Ottawa.

My wife and I moved to Ottawa in May of 2004, and quite frankly, we had no other tactic for starting a church other than starting a Bible Study. God was gracious to us and opened doors for us to get in front of some small groups of people and just simply read the Bible and try to explain it's truths and apply them to our lives.
Maybe I could share some things that would we learned in doing that in different environments.

First - No one else is doing it. We found that there was a huge appetite among Christians and non-Christians to have someone be willing to go through a book in the Bible and explain and answer questions. There was a lady we met, who told me months after being a part of one of the Bible Studies, how she had been praying for years for God to send someone to come and simply explain the Scriptures.

Second - God honours His Word, and the Spirit will confirm the Word with signs and wonders. I've had the glorious privilege of praying with people to receive Christ after a Bible study. I've seen God heal hearts, comfort minds, give faith, hope, heal cynicism through just simply sharing, systematically through the Bible.

Third - there's more than one way to do it. I've done it where we all sit in a room and we hold all the questions until the end and we are dismissed. I've done it where people jump in with comments and questions, and I've done it where I give an overview of the passage and we split up into groups, with different translations, even other languages, and answer questions in the text together. I've done it in rehabs, half-way houses, homes, restaurants, coffee shops, business training rooms, university lounges, cottages, boats, cars, parks and back porches.

Lastly, it's incredibly effective. Some of my staff today came from a Bible study that I led at a half-way house for guys in drug and alcohol recovery. It's mind-blowing to me to see these guys so tremendously effective in ministry today, they are leading worship, preaching, teaching, serving, praying and evangelizing right next to me today. How could I have known the amazing fruit that would come from those very humble environments, with guys that their families and friends had long abandoned, and we just simply opened up the Bible and looked in it together, picking up where we left off the week before.

Frankly, I don't know what else Christians should do when they get together, other than break open this beautiful book. Jesus said: "My words are spirit, and they are life to a person's whole being" (John 6:63).

May the Lord bless you as you serve Him.

Andy Falleur, Calvary Fellowship of Ottawa

Monday, May 2, 2011

Theology and Worship

One of the things that I have often thought about is how theology undergirds everything we set out to do as Christians. Put another way, what we believe about God influences every decision we make. So if our theology is flawed, then our actions will also suffer in the same ways. Therefore it is important to spend time reflecting theologically (we do this all the time without the baggage of calling it theology anyway). One of the key areas of Christian action that I am passionate about is worship. Worship is not only shaped by our theology it also plays a key role in shaping our theology. Theologians have often described this dialectic or reciprocal relationship between theology and worship.

Just one area where our theology and worship meet is in our image of God. If our understanding of God is not one who is actually worthy of worship, then it is hard to inspire passionate worship. Likewise, if we do not sing about a God who is authentically worthy of worship then what is the point? The problem most of us develop is that our understanding of God takes on all kinds of baggage as we go through life. How significant people have behaved towards us can directly influence our understanding of God. What people we respect tell us (by their words and actions) about God also has a deep influence on our impressions of God. The further away from the corporate worship settings (where we speak and sing about our God) we get the less impact worship will have on our image of God. And I should also mention the all too common problem of Biblical illiteracy which leads to misshapen views of God. Why would you worship anything less than the God we sing, speak and read about in our Christian traditions? The simple answer is that you wouldn't.*

Worship definitely plays a role in leading us to discover the amazing qualities of our God. Worship that is theologically grounded is always the best. I remember the first time a pastor told me (when I was a young worship leader in a Foursquare church) not to use a certain song anymore. It was actually one I liked singing with great passion, so I asked "why?". This has become one of my favourite theological questions. He explained how that particular song spoke about how we established God's reign and he felt it robbed the glory from God. In other words - the image of God that this song evoked was of a god who was really only God because we declared it to be so. The theological flaw in this song is that it missed the fact that God is God not because we say so - but because that's what God always is and always will be. Anything less is merely a projection of our desires; what we would like God to be. And like my pastor friend recognized we need a God who is really God, not tamed by our desires to exercise some control over God in any way. Convinced that this was a theological problem with this song, I dropped it from our list of worship songs.

Over the years I've become more and more sophisticated in my discernment around worship songs. I feel at times like I'm terribly picky. Actually I will stop singing in worship settings if I feel the words portray something less than the awesome God I meet in the gospels. I do this because I do not want to disengage my brain in worship. And if you know me you would know I love to worship exuberantly. But more I want to worship with my whole being (mind, heart, strength, etc.) - so words matter to me. I also don't want to reinforce bad theology by singing it. I am convinced that what we sing strongly shapes what we believe and what we believe is manifest in everything we do.

Worship leaders are often even more powerful teachers than even our best preachers. I usually tell new preachers (I do a preaching/teaching training course for churches that invite me) that they are fortunate if someone remembers just one of their carefully constructed points. What people usually remember from sermons are the stories. Be that as it may, those same people will be able to remember the songs they sing week after week. Songs lodge themselves into our minds and work their way into our hearts - the words we sing need to have the same care that we give the words we preach.

When I hear comments like, "it's just a song", as if it doesn't matter what we sing, I usually shudder inside. In worship it is never just a song - it is worship of the most high God, the Lord of Lords. Worship of such a God always deserves to be our best, our most passionate expressions of our best theology (that is talk about God). I believe this is one of the key areas where the Vineyard has excelled as a movement.

Vineyard worship, from the early days, consistently told us of a God who was accessible, available, and interested in meeting us and transforming our lives. We learned to fall in love with this God, and the refrains of our love songs echo throughout many a church today (well beyond our denomination). What an amazing offering we have made to the Church. When we sing joyfully of the idea that the creator of all actually loves us, what joy that inspires. I do not want us to lose that heart - what I want us to do is continue to mature in this gift and offer even more theologically sound songs and services of worship. I believe that this is what will let even more generations fall in love with our great God. The way we do this is to continue to craft theologically sound passionate worship, and let those joyous strains fill our churches and gatherings.

How have you seen the theology of the songs you sing shape your expectations of God?

Frank Emanuel, Freedom Vineyard, Ottawa.

* I know there are all kinds of theories about why worship wanes in our communities - but the core issue is, in my opinion, one of content. It doesn't matter how "masculine" we make worship, if you aren't discovering the God who created all that is then you are just creating more problems.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Cusp of an election

Don't worry, this is a non-partisan message. But I think it would be remiss to not encourage you all to vote. I call you to participate as citizens of this great country God has blessed us to live in. For us who live in the tension of the now and not yet of the Kingdom, our whole lives (what we say and do) should point towards the Kingdom we hope for. Spiritually this means we get to participate with God's redemptive activity in the whole world. We do this on our knees and on our feet. Politically we need to do the same. So pray and vote Ontario.

[Vineyard loving political theologian steps off his soapbox]

Frank Emanuel, Freedom Vineyard, Ontario

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Jesus is alive!

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.
John 20:1

Happy Easter everyone.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Underground Streams Podcast

The Underground Streams podcast came out of a desire to communicate a message that touches on heart issues and explores truth. We do this through open discussion with a panel of participants. We connect to things that touch on the spirituality of individuals, things that cannot be explained completely by the Five senses.

It is our desire to create a forum that Christians can relate to and
that would be thought provoking and entertaining. We also hope it will appeal to people who are searching for spirituality and connect to it because the topics look interesting. We try to avoid using Christianese language or promote it as a Christian podcast. We want it to have broader appeal.

Christians could use it as a springboard for conversation with those around them who have not yet awakened to the spiritual side of themselves. The highest percentage of people who find Christ is through relationship.

We try to produce a show that has humour, original music and talk. We keep the length short to around 15 minutes.

Our podcasts are recorded on GarageBand software via Skype. That way we do not have to be in the same location and can invite guests to be a part of it. The podcast happens about 2 times per month. To do it this way, it is necessary to know GarageBand software and its limitations.

From a technical and creative aspect, we have a TV, movie, music composer/producer who participates in the podcast and also produces the show for us. We record our conversation on GarageBand around the topic and then he edits and produces the podcast using his software and technology. If others are looking for help, you could hire him to work with you. You can contact him directly through his website.

We have also placed the podcast on YouTube for additional exposure and are working on it being placed on itunes. It currently is on Podomatic. You can also find us on the web. We need to have more followers who would be willing to commit to our podcast to have it make an appearance in the New Age spiritual realm. You and your friends could help us accomplish this if you would become a follower of the podcast. Podcasts only affect the world as they become popular with listeners.

Bob Buckley, Vineyard Toronto Downtown, Ontario