Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Revelation as Foundation of Faith

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frank Emanuel - Freedom Vineyard

Monday, October 13, 2014

Thankful for Friends

Happy Thanksgiving! 

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

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

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

So this thanksgiving I am truly grateful for my friends.

What are you thankful for?

Frank Emanuel - Ottawa, ON

Monday, October 6, 2014

theology: doing it wrong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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