Friday, July 27, 2007

[THO] Your Church Good?

My buddy Joe on mySpace started a discussion on what is the most important aspect of church to start with. He listed what he distilled from Rick Warren's mechanistic view of church: fellowship, worship, discipleship, service and evangelism. I think a compartmentalized view like that is just plain screwed up, but I wanted to go in a different, but related, direction with this post.

What is the most important thing about your church to you?

My experience in asking such a question, and as a church planter you ask this one a lot of people, is that every one of us will answer that question differently at different times. I suspect that our churches meet certain conscious and unconscious needs for us, and that depending on what need is operative we will answer in a particular way.

I think this quesiton is good for two reasons:

1) It gives us an insight into what needs are animating us.

This is a question we ask so that we can hear our own answer. What is the reason worship in song is so elevated for us at that moment? Why isn't it the community? Why isn't it the encouragement to maturity? It is good to acknowledge and even understand our own needs. I think we hesitate because of the myth that we should be self-sufficient.

2) It gives the minister an insight into what is working well in the church.

When I asked this question recently to our group I phrased it like this: What does Freedom mean to you? I was given answers of relationality, encouragement, community and caring, prayer and the like. It showed me that there is something special about the community we have at Freedom Vineyard. It lets me ask why other aspects were missing, perhaps they are not functioning as well as they should be. This helps to shape the direction in which I pray and move as the pastor. I need that kind of feedback.

So here it is, I put the question to you. You can share in the comment or just ponder it. What is the most important thing about your church to you? I would love to hear some of your responses.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

[THO] Bible Verse Meme

Paul tagged me to continue this one. I instantly knew what to do.

Not because there is a verse that is my favourite, I'm really quite partial to many assorted verses and stories in the Bible. But there is one that I think God would want to make one of my favourites, at least that is the conclusion I draw from ending up on that verse so often when I practice unstructured devotions.

This is a funny verse for me too, I am always surprised when I end up there. It is a verse loved by the advocates of a pie-in-the-sky ideal of heaven, you know that notion of heaven that is divorced from creation in which many suppose we will be yanked away while God sorts out the cosmic mistake of the universe. The more I've studied, prayed and lived my Christian walk the more I find reasons to reject that sort of eschatological nightmare. So perhaps it is God's infinite wisdom that this verse would continue to dog me, a balancing perhaps.

The verse is found in my second favourite gospel - John. In one of my favourite sections of John, which is why I'm always surprised to end up here in the oddest ways. The verse is found in chapter 14 right at the beginning:

"Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you. I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also." John 14:1-3 NKJV

What I love most is that this passage is far from clear, far from simple. For instance, the word mansions is really a word for dwelling places. I remember the first chink in the otherworldly heaven proposition was realizing that scripturally God's dwelling isn't a building or a temple - it is us. We are the temple of the Holy Spirit. So this verse is primarily for and about us.

When I read this verse I remember that this is Jesus encouraging his disciples in the face of what is to come - the cross. He isn't trying to prepare them for their deaths, but rather for their lives as Christians in light of the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus. This passage is about orientation before it could ever be construed as being about destination. That orientation is invitational and rooted in a mutual indwelling - which of course Jesus expounds on in the same set of talks.

The invitation is that what Jesus goes to do (mission) becomes our mission. Jesus is making it so that his promise of "I am with you always" will become the abiding reality for the missional Church. He is dealing with all that stands in the way of making the indwelling of God in us a frustrated reality, namely our sin. And he is opening wide the conversation - many dwelling places implies that what we are called to missionally is huge and is for all of humanity (or at least a large portion of humanity). It also implies that it is uncomplete without this mutual indwelling, that God invites us into our role in the mission of Jesus.

This mutual indwelling means that not only does God come to dwell within us, but we too dwell in God. That might seem a stretch from this verse, but I think the rest of John bears it out. The importance here though is that it is God's initiated movement towards us in history that makes it all possible. We can be with Jesus because Jesus is with us. In fact Jesus continually breaks into history to be with us, receiving us to himself so that we can be in God and God in us (and so that God can be All in All).

Just marvel at how imminent that is. Creator God, the Father and Mother of all that is, chooses to dwell in us. The Holy God sends his only Son to deal with our seperation from God, in a way that invites, and never forces, us to respond to God's love. God accepts and receives us because of the accomplished work of Jesus. When we live in the light of that we too receive the mission of making that love apparent to the whole world. This verse is too important to be swallowed up by some fantasy rapture scenario.

Hmmm, who to tag. Let's see: Chris, Byron, Kenny, Len and David.

I didn't do my research well enough - two of those blokes are already tagged (Byron and Chris). So please add: Steve and Jamie

Thursday, July 19, 2007

[LIF] Home from Vacation

It was later than we expected that we arrived home last night. We left Hamilton fairly early but found out the hard way that some of the early VUE Hybrids have a problem that only occurs when they overheat. We have been having some wierd sensor issues since we got it, but never when I could get it to the dealer in time to fix it. But yesterday we made it to Newmarket, to visit my grandmother, and the car wouldn't restart. We had Roadside coming and everything when the car cooled down enough to start. That is sort of frustrating actually.

We let it cool while we had a visit and then head out, zig-zaging so as to miss the growing Toronto rush hour traffic. We were almost to Whitby when all the electrical shut down. You don't know how nice power steering is until it is suddenly gone! The gas engine worked but all the guages froze so I didn't know how fast I was going. We made it to a parking lot (outside a Tim Hortons) and I called to locate the nearest Saturn dealer. They knew what the problem was and told me I'd make it home (once the car cooled down) and should get it fixed at our dealer (which is where I took it this morning). I found a car wash actually helped, plus the kids love car washes!

Other than that, we had an excellent vacation. I bought many books. We stayed with some very cool friends, both in Cambridge and Hamilton. Thanks Brad and Mary! Thanks Peter and Cindy! Got to talk a lot, pray a bit and I even saw the new Harry Potter movie (they cut out too much book though). The kids got to go to Ontario Place as well as many water parks and playgrounds. We played a few games. Drove to visit dear friends. Even saw a newborn baby (congrats again grampa George and grandma Janet!) fresh out of the proverbial oven (arrived about the same time we did in Sarnia). Probably one of our most enjoyable vacations yet.

Well got to see if we can't track down a car to go up to a cottage with.

Monday, July 16, 2007

[THO] Fellowship on the Underside of History

Underside of History is a term I'm adapting, it usually refers to the poor, but I'm convinced that it should also refer to those who really live in solidarity with life on the margins. Regardless, there is something special that happens on the margins, on the underside of history. That is what I felt we experienced with our dear friends in Cambridge this past weekend.

It is rare to feel so loved, so accepted and welcomed into a place. But when you are amongst those who live on the margins should we expect anything less. For that matter why are the margins so special? I guess it takes some special folk to tackle the margins of society and thrive there. Not because of an incapacity, but because of a deep cultural selfishness and unChristlikeness. This weekend was an image of heaven for me - being with Brad and Mary was like being with Jesus.

The funny thing is we went to church that Sunday, we like to visit churches when we are on vacation, but you know the few days we spent with Brad and Mary, drinking wine, sharing life, chasing books and praying felt more like church than the service we went to on Sunday.

The reason I wanted to say this was an underside story, is that this is so rare an experience. Mary and Brad didn't care if dishes got cleaned on time, they cared about us. This is the same care I know, cause I have seen glimpses of it, they give to those they mentor and love. They simply opened their homes and lives to us and it was wonderful.

Ironically that church service was on hospitality. Not that they weren't hospitable, but the young preacher was calling people to live what Mary and Brad do so naturally. The preacher encouraged Christians to welcome the strangers and to remove the blinders of prejudice from our eyes. I would add that we need to always hope and see others through the eyes of hope instead of the eyes of negative expectations. When you are with folks who see you this way you can't help but feel loved. I know I felt loved with Brad and Mary.

So thanks guys for opening your home and heart to us. You have inspired us.

[LIF] Book Finds in Cambridge Area

We spent a few days in Cambridge with our friends Brad and Mary, and while we were there Brad took me to some awesome book stores. I found some real treasures:

  • Herbert Butterfield - Christianity and History
  • Paul Knitter - No Other Name
  • D. Gareth Jones - Teilhard de Chardin
  • Barnstone, ed. - The Other Bible
  • Dorothee Soelle - The Silent Cry
  • Thomas Cahill - Desire of the Everlasting Hills
  • Gerald McDermott - Can Evangelicals Learn from World Religions?
  • Martin Buber - I and Thou
  • Soren Kierkegaard - Purity of Heart
  • Sallie McFague - Methaphorical Theology
  • Hans Kung - On Being a Christian

    Only Soelle and McDermott were new, I grabbed them at Pandora's Box in Kitchner, you have to visit that store!
  • Thursday, July 12, 2007

    [LIF] Reverend Frank :-)

    One of the interesting things about being in the Vineyard is how laid back everything is. One of the contentions with the term ordination is that it implies a lifelong ministry that travels with the person rather than what we want which is leadership called out of a congregation and recognized by the congregation. But in order to get your license to marry easily, in Ontario at least, the easiest way is to "ordain" the minister and then send in the government paperwork. So today I was ordained. Here is the liturgy.

    We arrived in Sarnia to meet with George, who is our sending Pastor as well as the Pastoral Governing Official for Vineyard in Ontario. George ordered the ribs, I followed suit, but with the honey garlic sauce reserved for the not yet ordained. An envelope was handed to me containing the government forms. George solemnly says, "oh let me see that for a minute." Then realizing I needed the ordination certificate we finish the formal liturgy of chowing down and proceed to his place.

    At Georges house a baby had just been born - congrats Lynette! Still tasting the pre-ordained honey garlic ribs George fired up the laser printer and spits out two copies of my certificate of ordination! It reads: This certifies that The Reverend Frank Emanuel Was ordained as a pastor of the association of Vineyard Churches Ontario Region on the 6th day of May, 2007. It is retroactive even! Then we followed the ancient ceremony of finding an envelope for said certificate. A done deal.

    Actually in all seriousness ordination is a formality. What we take seriously is what we call releasing. That happens in two stages: so you feel led to start a church, go for it. In our case George and Janet Esser took us on as our mentors and sending church, they beleived in us which was and is awesome! Then when we had a chance to do something formal George and Janet laid hands on us to release us into the leadership of Freedom Vineyard. No fancy liturgy, but it sure did feel good and right. For me that was the ordination that we needed. But unfortunately the governement wanted a bit more - hence the certificate today. Gonna put it up on my wall though.

    Personally I think George should have given me a purple collar to wear, what do you think?

    Monday, July 09, 2007

    [THO] Pastor's Praying for Each Other

    When I first started planting I did a really smart thing, I sought out a bunch of other planters and potential planters and invited them to meet in a Tim Hortons for prayer once a week. We actually saw a plant get birthed out of those times from one of the potential folks, very cool. But what often happens is that life crams in and these things become less of a priority. I remember fighting hard to keep this, it was a powerful blessing to my own ministry, but eventually it went to the wayside.

    I have been without a regular pastoral gathering for quite a while now, not for lack of interest or the odd attempt to restart this, just I've had little time that works well with other peers. Most of us are bi-vocational in some way and pastoral ministry can be very time demanding. The last connection like this was a one-on-one session with a fellow pastor who used to also be an accountability partner. I would like for that relationship to restart, and perhaps it will. But he's pastoring, teaching at two Universities and has two kids! And I think I'm busy.

    Today though, I met with three other planting pastors and a wonderful facilitator, Alison Johnson. These meetings have been going on for a few years now and I've only made maybe two other meetings. They often happen when I have classes or other committments. But today I was available and boy was it a good time.

    Just like those early meetings I held, we were a mixed bag of evangelicals. Andy from Calvary Chapel, Chris from the Mennonite Brethren and Mark from SoulNet. Andy ran us through a series of questions that helped us frame where we were at devotionally and ministerially. Then we prayed for each other. Man I miss that.

    I love prayer at our church, but it dawned on me just how much I need to have prayerful connections outside of our small community. I need those I can bounce my crazy ideas off of. It was good.

    I'm hoping to continue, they only meet like that monthly. It might not work too well with my schedule, but one can hope.

    A while back I grabbed the name for a second blog, the Praying Pastor. I had the idea of posting prayers as blog content. Now I'm hoping it will have another meaning, that I'm connecting well with my peers and praying with them to see God's glory more and more in my city. After all isn't that what we are doing this for in the first place?

    Sunday, July 08, 2007

    [THO] Theology vs. Biblical Studies

    I often run into a notion that theology and Biblical studies are/should be synonymous. This is a rather alarming notion. If I believed it I would likely go find a school more focused on Biblical studies to study at. I think both are distinct and both are necessary.

    In Biblical Studies the only starting place has to be the Scriptures. While I love the Scriptures, they are far too narrow a place for us to do all theology from. Hence I would consider Biblical studies a narrow subset of theology. Theology has much broader starting points.

    Just to clarify I am interested primarily in Christian theology, and because of that Biblical studies will always play a strong role in my work of theology. But it isn't the only starting point. More it is one conversation amongst many that are important.

    So does this mean I value scripture less? I think that is probably a valid criticism. But my committment to the Bible doesn't come out of my theological studies, it comes out of my passion to know the God of the Bible more. So there is a devotional committment to scripture that is part of who I am - and this does influence my theology.

    Theology engages Scripture, history, tradition, dogma, hagiography, philosophy, mysticism, spirituality, cosmology, social sciences, ethics, economics, science, etc. There are a few starting points - such as the notion that theology is essentially the convesation about God/Man relationship in light of these broad dialogue partners, but you can start from almost any of these and do theology - even Christian theology.

    That is why I find theology so fascinating. The Bible is a wonderful expression of God to Christians. But it is not the only book God has given us. And it is not the only voice in the conversation of theology.

    Wednesday, July 04, 2007

    [FV] Teaser

    I just finished the last bit of animation for our Church information video. Each of the Ontario Vineyards were asked to submit a short video, two or three minutes long, telling about the church. This short video can be played in other Vineyards to help us know one another more and pray for each other a little better. Cool idea and of course we couldn't truly express who we were without doing something a little different.

    Six of us represented 8 of our people and a dog! We scripted, created the scenes and produced all the base collatoral for our film tonight, in lieu of a regular kinship. It was fun, but boy did it go late. We finished all the parts with dialogue up so that the bulk of folks could head out, then Sharon and I animated the rest which uses already recorded background tracks. I'm sure you will really enjoy this video when I get it all edited together. Give me a week or so and I'll post a link.

    There is a teaser on my Facebook page, for those facebook keeners. You need to add the video applet to watch it though, oh and be my friend. But hey, I'm a pretty friendly guy.

    [LIF] Something Naked

    I really enjoy David's Naked Pastor Blog. Every now and then his irreverent comics really hit the spot. I feel like it is too often than I deal with folks like this bloke in the blindfold. So incredibly painful too, I just can't ignore them. Thanks Dave for making me feel not so alone.

    Sunday, July 01, 2007

    [LIF] Happy Canada Day!

    Despite some of my frustrations with our politics, I am very proud to be a Canadian! Hope you all have a great Canada day. With any luck my girls will be awake to see fireworks this evening.