Monday, October 21, 2013

Family



This morning National Team member Larry Levy posted the above spoken word piece. It gets at the heart of a couple things I've been thinking about lately. First the heart of my connection to the Vineyard is one of family, I'll tell you a bit of my journey home. Second it is about the struggles we all face as a movement moves into the future trying to be faithful to a vision God has given, one that I think family is profoundly suited to meet. Let's start with my journey to give a little context.

I love that Miriam Swaffield names family a foundational truth. For me I found spent my early ministry years in a church that discarded me when I began to push at the boundaries, it seems some communities are not equipped for people that ask "too many" questions. As a result I was left trying to pick up the pieces. Had I missed God? Had I made a mistake uprooting my life and moving to a city where I knew no one to minister tirelessly without wage (I held down a full time job at a pet food store so I could work as worship leader, youth pastor as well as lead the charge on evangelism)? My friends outside of the church I worked with kept telling me that I should go to a Vineyard. So I did. I remember calling the Airport (this is a few years before the Toronto Blessing) Vineyard and explaining that I was technically on staff at my church but wanted to go to a kinship. The lady who answered told me most of the people in her group didn't attend their Sunday service and welcomed me. I still remember that first night. I was feeling like I had missed God and was a stranger in a strange land. That night we sang songs, hung out, and then a couple began to sing over me. They sang songs of the Father's love for me. One lady even shared a vision, one that God keeps bringing me back to year after year. One that reminds me that the journey is not always easy, but it is that journey that God is using to refine and mature me. I literally left that meeting bubbling over with joy again.

Now it wasn't all roses after that. In fact it was pretty hard. I still had issues to resolve with the church I had been working with. But my new Vineyard family continued to love me and invest into me despite getting so little in return. They showed me what family is like. Never giving up. Always hoping. Always trusting God to do more. They gave me the strength I needed to start putting my life back together again. I ended up moving back to Ottawa, really as a stepping stone to returning to my hometown of Truro (where I first met Larry actually) to figure out what was next. There was no Vineyard in Ottawa at that time. But God soon made it clear to me that I was to stay in Ottawa, at least for a season. I landed in an inner city Baptist church where I eventually served as a lay minister. It was an amazing church, but there was still a longing in me for family. I remember when the senior pastor brought me into the office to propose me working towards ordination, they actually wanted to send me to seminary. It was a hard moment because my dream had been to study theology, but much as I loved this church I just wasn't a Baptist at heart. In praying through what I was to do next I caught wind of a new Vineyard about to be planted in Ottawa. I knew that I needed to be part of that. I needed to serve that Vineyard and give back what it had given me. So I sought out Jim and Mary Rennicks and a funny thing happened - they recognized me. Turns out Jim and Mary pastored the Alliance church in the backyard of the house I grew up in. It gets even more amazing. They had brought in the evangelist who saw me in a pizza shop (where I worked) and God told to go pray for me. I met him a year after, I had gotten saved after he went back to his hotel room to pray for me, at a conference for Christian leaders in Ottawa (Vision 2000). So basically, my Vineyard family, even before I knew them as family, had been instrumental in my whole journey into the Kingdom.

Family is a big deal for me. I love my Vineyard family. They've been with me through some really tough moments. Loved me, prayed for me, believed in me even when my faith led me to risk in ways they didn't understand.

It is family like that which will bring into the future. We have a wonderful diversity, a richness that will take us forward. As I've been ministering more formally in the Vineyard I know that God leads us into different places to bring the gospel to even the lowest, most needy places. I know we don't always understand or even agree with the directions this leading takes others. But when we listen to the stories of people finding family, we learn to trust that God knows the score. God is concerned with what we say love always does - going to the lowest places to lift them up. I've been watching as those "lowest" places grow more and more diverse. People I know and love are both struggling with this and pursuing the lost in new mission fields. To me that DNA that led the group in Mississauga to welcome a broken Pentecostal minister continues to extend the Kingdom invitation throughout our country. This is perhaps our greatest strength - the willingness to love beyond ourselves. It grows our family.

I think the call in the spoken word piece is that family is what matters here. Not family as in we all look the same. But family as something deeper, something that reminds us who we really are and always hopes for a better future together, richer because of our diversity, stronger because of our faith. To me that is family. You, in the Vineyard, are my family. And I am so grateful for you all.

Would love to hear your thoughts on family.

Frank Emanuel - Freedom Vineyard, Ottawa

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

reverse theology

Tintoretto's Cain and Abel
This past week I have been reading Miroslav Volf's excellent book, Exclusion & Embrace. Volf, a Croatian theologian (now working in the USA) who has seen the terrible things that neighbours can do to each other, brings a very personal and challenging perspective to the topic of how we live with others. One of the stories he includes in the book is the familiar tale of Cain and Abel, the brothers who didn't get along (see Genesis 4). Let me paraphrase his observations.

At first glance the two brothers appear to be equals: born of the same parents, both engaging in respectable occupations (one a tiller of the ground and the other a keeper of sheep), both offering appropriate sacrifices to God, and neither of them taking centre stage in the story (a literary device is used whereby the names are mentioned alternately). However, there is an undercurrent of inequality in the story. At the birth of her first son, the mother issues a proud and joyous proclamation ("I have produced a man with the help of the Lord.") Cain's name is one of honour, meaning "to produce," "to bring forth." On the other hand, Abel, the second son, is not received with much excitement. His name reflects his inferiority: Abel means "breath," "vapor," "sheer transience," "worthlessness," "nothingness." Some scholars put forth the idea that Cain would have been a rich farmer, a wealthy landowner whereas Abel would have struggled to keep a small flock. When they brought offerings to God, the great Cain brought simply "the fruit of the ground" whereas poor Abel brought the best parts ("fat portions").  Perhaps Abel was more aware of his dependence on God. Whatever the case, God noted the difference and the inequality between them became clear.

In a move that we later see echoed in the many inversions and reversals that Jesus became known for, we see God upsetting the status quo. Abel (not just his offering) is accepted and Cain is rejected. And this upsets Cain, to put it mildly. Volf observes that first came envy, that Abel (a nobody) should be regarded and Cain (a somebody) should be disregarded by God. Then came anger at both God and Abel, because God's version of justice offended Cain's sense of justice and importance. Volf writes: "Cain was confronted with God's measure of what truly matters and what is truly great. Since he could not change the measure and refused to change himself, he excluded both God and Abel from his life. Anger was the first link in a chain of exclusions." (Volf, 95).

I don't know about you, but I find comfort in many of Jesus' reversals: strangers are embraced, the poor are included, sinners are welcomed to the feast.  I identify with the outsider and am grateful for the invitation of Jesus to be a part of God's story, God's kingdom. What I am not as comfortable with, and what I find here in the story of Cain and Abel, is that I might be on the opposite side of the inversion: I might be Cain. Like this older brother, I have done everything right to the best of my ability. I am doing quite well, working hard and reaping good rewards in this life. There is a certain amount of favour and honour that I feel at times. It seems like justice. But is this God's justice, God's measure of greatness, of what truly matters? Or mine?

Here is another example. In Jeremiah we read about the unpopular message that the prophet brings to the people of Israel: they are to submit to the rule of the Babylonians and go willingly into captivity. This went against their idea of justice! Surely they should remain in their land, fight for what is theirs, stay with their beloved temple, and hold out against Babylon! But God, through Jeremiah, instructs them to surrender, go live in Babylon, be ruled by a foreigner, build homes and have families, and pray for the blessing of their captors. God's version of justice seems like a slap in the face. However, God promises that captivity will be life while holding out against Babylon will be death. Submit and live, Jeremiah urges! It all just seems so backwards! Putting ourselves under the leadership of a corrupt government? It makes no sense! And this is because we are Cain. We have assumed the position of favour and don't understand how it could be yanked out from under us.

So how can we write a better ending for the story where we are Cain? Here are some questions to ask: when my idea of justice is out of sync with what God says, with what Jesus demonstrates, am I willing to embrace a new outlook? Am I willing to say, "I obviously got this wrong. Let me learn what is important to you, God. Let me learn from my poor brother whom I dismissed as lesser than me. Let me willingly give up this place of favour and learn what true greatness, true service is." This inversion is a difficult one, I admit. It is moving from a place of independence to dependence. It is replacing self-sufficiency with surrender. It is giving up our well-laid plans for the future in exchange for one day at a time with the God who provides. But it is the better way, the only way forward. It is the way that leads to life and not to death.

For more on this, see Miroslav Volf, Exclusion & Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation. Abingdon Press, 1996.

Matte from Montreal

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Getting Familiar with the Vineyard

When I came aboard ThoughtWorks I shared a concern that churches in our movement need to get back to our roots. The reality of being a young movement adopting great people from many different streams of evangelicalism means that many of our churches came from quite different roots. What we all have in common is that we've seen something in the Vineyard that inspires us to cry out for more of God. We might say that what they saw was the Kingdom, but a more helpful answer is that we saw what happens when a group of people commit to the vision of God's Kingdom presented in our Kingdom theology. It is this theological basis that makes us different than other Pentecostal and Charismatic movements. The way that this theology framed our practice really made it easy for evangelicals, of many different stripes, to embrace a more Spirit orientated faith. Even though there was a great felt kinship, the reality was that many of our churches did not address the growing theological disparity in our movement - and as a result we all end up longing for the Kingdom but going about walking out our desires for the Kingdom in different ways, ways that sometimes take us away from what the Vineyard was and is all about. In order to meet this need the ThoughtWorks team has included several modules in our curriculum that provide an adequate introduction to the theology and ethos that produced the Vineyard. If you are looking for a set of Vineyard basics, these courses are a great place to start.

God Thoughts Year 1 - Naturally Supernatural

Using Gary Best's great little book on the subject, this book gives you fundamental insights into the practical outworking of the Vineyard's Kingdom theology. Best of all, in the assignment you are asked to put the insights from this book into practice.

God Thoughts Year 2 - Breakthrough

Using Derek Morphew's introductory theological text this book provides the Biblical and theological foundations for the Kingdom theology that Gary Best writes about in Naturally Supernatural. This theology is the biggest difference between Vineyard theology and other Pentecostal/Charismatic theologies. Our emphasis is not on God restoring something lost or fulfilling covenant, rather it is about the eschatological reality that broke into history through Jesus and continues to show up in our midst. Morphew does a great job of identifying this theme through both Testaments and tracing out implications for Kingdom living.

Biblical Foundations Year 3 - Nothingsgonnastopit

Bill Jackson provides an engaging biblical survey through the hermeneutic (fancy word for interpretive) lens of Kingdom. Nothingsgonnastopit is available as a book or DVD set.

Kingdom Encounters Year 3 - Doing Healing

Alex Venter is one of my favourite writers on how Kingdom theology works out in practical action. Doing Healing explores the way that the Vineyard approaches healing prayer. Again, this is an area where theological differences are important. In many covenant approaches a failure to see healing is usually attributed to a lack of faith or hidden sin, but in a Kingdom theology framework it is more often attributed to the tension of the now and not yet that we live in as we await the return of Christ. It frees us to pray with expectation but without condemnation when we do not see healing. It also provides a framework for everyone to participate, because healing is not dependent on our actions but on God's inbreaking.

Ancient Future Church Year 1 - Quest for the Radical Middle

Rounding out these courses is Bill Jackson's wonderful history of the Vineyard. It is important that we remember where we came from so that we do not lose sight of the course we are called to pursue. I love, in particular, Todd Hunter's AVC USA address "The Church that I Would Build: The 21st Century Vineyard..." which is a call to all the Vineyard can be as a unique contribution to the Church for the sake of the world God so loves.

These five courses are a helpful starting place for anyone wanting to know more about who we are as a movement. You can find them and all our curriculum at the ThoughtWorks website.

Frank Emanuel - National ThoughtWorks Chairperson