Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Are you Comfortable?

Recently I was accused of preaching a gospel of comfort and believing that anything goes in the realm of faith, provided that you personally are comfortable with what you believe. It is aweful to be so misunderstood. But I thought here is a perfect opportunity to address the whole subject of comfort.

It is funny, but I am wired to rock the boat. I tend to look for opportunities to push people out of their comfort zones, to try and stretch those around me just a little bit. I really love to challenge the preconceptions we have that give the illusion of stability to our lives - particularily when those preconceptions concern how we percieve others. As a minister I see all the time how people are blinded to the light of God in others simply because they have a particular view of how they feel things should work. This is the main theme in the book of Job where the popular notion is that when you do good then good things happen and when you do bad then bad things happen - read Job carefully because God challenges that very notion and rebukes Job's so called friends for letting their preconceptions blind them from seeing Job as a righteous and good man.

Books like Job do what I find myself doing a lot, challenging the preconceptions in others. I feel that this is really a pastoral role. As a pastor my challenge is to help people understand what they think they know about God and to encourage them to go deeper into their understanding of God and God's claims on their lives. In doing so I find myself fairly often pushing people out of their comfort zones. Which, ironically, is exactly what I did with the person who accused me of having an ear tickling gospel.

Monday, January 30, 2006

New Kid in Town!

Actually they have been around a good while now. But our good friends at Hosanna Christian Fellowship have just been adopted into the Vineyard family! Welcome to the family! Sharon and I have been hanging out with them a bit as they walked through this process and have really gotten to like this group. Rudy and Marnie Pohl are great visionaries and have huge hearts for God's work in Ottawa. I know this has been a long process and all along I had the feeling that whatever the outcome it would help establish a renewed sense of identity in that congregation. I am just tickled that they will be walking that identity out within my family.

Lots of love to you guys from your friends at Freedom Vineyard. Again welcome to the family!

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Two Poles of Evangelism

Evangelism, I know that sounds like a dirty word to some and an imperative to others. Personally I love the idea of evangelism – that of sharing our faith in Christ. But what I don’t like is how notions of evangelism polarize the Christian Church; my gut tells me that this is not the intention of evangelism at all. Nor is the purpose homogeneity of belief. Evangelism at the heart is an invitation to step into the very work of God, shared by the Godhead and given to the Church.

One pole of evangelism is what I call the confrontational approach. This is pretty standard and easy to get your head around. You have a presentation of the gospel and you call people to respond. In my early years as a Christian this was how I lived, I preached on street corners and passed out oodles of variations on the bridge illustration. I even berated others who found gentler ways to preach the gospel; I was part of the problem.

The other pole is almost a completely silent witness. One that uses works of charity and kindness to influence others, I will call this evangelistic action. This can be a highly creative approach to evangelism. It can also be a form of evangelism that never brings individuals to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.

These two poles are often seen as completely at odds with each other, and it is easy to see that they embody two different philosophies. Also I have painted them at the extremes rather than their more common expressions, that is not all confrontational evangelists ram the gospel down peoples throats and not all evangelistic action is devoid of a connection to the gospel message. But it is useful to denote the two this way and say we really need the best of both worlds.

One thing that confrontational evangelism does really well is preparing people to be able to share their faith. Part of the problem with an evangelism of action is that when the right questions come many of the participants have no clue how best to share their faith. So as you might guess I am looking for a third way, a middle road, and this understanding of the nature of the Good News is something we need to keep from the confrontational side.

From the action side we really need the emphasis that we are dealing with whole people; people who have intact worldviews and often with a lot of baggage. Many people are simply not ready to hear a presentation of the gospel, in fact lots of people have questions other than “what do I do with the sin in my life?” When we adopt a life of service to others, then we can really be Christ to the world. We can become the friend of sinners, and all things to all people that by all means we might win some. Something about that excites me deep inside my being.

What inevitably happens in an environment like this is questions. I love it when the questions come – partly because my heritage in the confrontational world has left me very capable of navigating the questions. One has to be careful here to listen to the question, I think this is one of the greatest failures of the confrontational side – the failure to address the questions that really matter to the person you are witnessing to. I know it is hard for some to get, but really most people don’t care that God sent His Son Jesus to save them. But you know they do have deep needs that only Jesus can meet. The respect of these real needs is what we need to preserve from the evangelistic action side.

I would love these poles to disappear, especially as we just completed a week of prayer for Church unity. But the realist in me says we still have a lot of work to do. But I for one want to be part of the solution, I want to craft and live this middle way. Honestly, I think my experience in the confrontational side gave me the tendency to err on the action side, but I am learning. And God isn’t through with me yet.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Very odd dream with liturgical implications

I had a dream last night that we inherited my grandmother's house - this grandmother was very wealthy (actually she passed on years ago) and had a really nice house. In the dream everything was even more ornate and larger, it was a veritable mansion. We had been trying to sort out what stuff was still useful in the kitchen and what stuff from our own stuff needed to be added. The huge garage was full of our stuff (and some of it quite flimsy I might add) which we didn't really know what we would need. I knew we needed to find a place for our leather couch but that was about it. Anyway, I had just ventured into one of the lounge rooms to look at what was there, the crown moldings and victorian furniture was gorgeous. But not all of it was still useful and the walls would definitely need Sharon's touch in paint. I was going through drawers and checking out the many windows before I woke up.

I was sharing the dream with Sharon and she observed that this is exactly what we have been doing in our church. We have been given such a rich heritage from the historical Church, but not everything was still useful or fit our personalities. But we were certainly appreciative of it all. The long process of sorting this out has begun in the kitchen for us as we have opened up ancient Eucharistic possibilities for our group. Maybe the dream is telling us more is on the way, maybe it is just an affirmation of what is already happening. In either case I wake up today feeling blessed to have such a rich inheritance in the Church. No wonder God loves the Church so much.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

At Least it is a Minority

124, that is less than the Liberals went into their last term with. That will make it very hard for the Conservatives to completely pooch our country - at lest I hope that is the case. Harper listed the following as his main issues: clean up government with a federal accountability act, reduce taxes, starting with a GST cut, crack down on crime, establish guaranteed wait times, provide child care money directly to parents. Well everyone was saying they wanted to clean up the government, taxes I worry about because that just sounds too easy and short-sighted to me. My big concern with a capitalist government is that it is likely not going to have my children's future in mind when making policy. The crime situation does need to be dealt with - but is that really a Federal concern? Just give make sure the municipalities have the money to provide policing. Guaranteed wait times, sure. But this child care money is pure idiocy. So you want me to pay a set rate to everyone in Canada who has a child? Yes, I said I was going to pay it. This money they are working with already comes from us. These are the people talking about reducing our taxes - doesn't anyone in that party see the disconnect? What is worse is I can't see how this will really be helpful for people caught in systems of poverty in Canada? Another handout is not going to help them make it in an increasingly capitalistic society where they can't get a fair wage if they tried. This kind of deal appeals only to the shortsighted and reminds me of the tactics used by the party they loved so much to hate.

I know I'll be praying "God keep our land, glorious and free" with much desperation this go around.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Voting Blues

Went to vote today. It was surreal actually. I was pretty sure I was going to vote strategically, but staring down at the ballot I could only vote with my heart. See I hate this idea that there is a wasted vote. The only reason that illogic has legitimacy is that so many people buy into it. So if I'm going to complain about how seriously stupid that notion is then how can I give into it? I can't. So I voted for the party that I would like to see get some seats but I am sure won't get too many, especially in Ontario.

This is the first election I actually visited the alternative option websites for. You know there really isn't a great option in Canada. At least not for someone like me who is too socialist for the Conservatives and too distrustful of government for the NDPs. I think if the Liberals kicked out Martin and got someone who wasn't touched by the scandals they'd do just fine. Not that I think Martin is all that bad - despite what everyone wants you to think. Anyway, I couldn't vote for the Liberals either - just too nasty a campaign. You know the nastiness of this is too much like American politics for me - it makes me sick to my stomach. Anyway, I'll leave you guessing who I voted for, I voted, felt aweful after, and still don't feel so hot. God help Canada.

Andrew made the news!!!!

Gundrun came and interviewed me regarding my great friend Andrew recently. I was tickled by the article. For the record I never held an official role at the old Ottawa Vineyard, I think she had that detail mixed up because I had held associate pastor roles before that. One of the things I like about my Vineyard experience is that titled roles are not something at the front of ministry. I think it does describe what I did functionally though - maybe "Assistant to the Pastor" would be better. My buddy Andrew is one of my dearest friends. Enjoy.

Link - Jan 2006

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Rik Rocks!

Ok - I am unabashadely biased. I know and love this Rik Leaf guy. His first solo CD is still one of my most frequent listens. And here he goes and sends me a copy of his latest disc - "...now is the winter of our discontent". It's another one for the car. (I hardly have anytime to listen to CDs unless I am in the car by myself, I only keep about 8 CDs in there at a time, so I am a bit picky). To put it bluntley - this is a great CD. And it is packed with musicky goodness! In fact there aren't any dud songs on the whole CD. Trust me I'd tell you if there were, I'm just that kind of guy.

OK so I wanted to highlight two songs that blew me away. What is very cool is that when I popped over to get the image for this post "Rather Be Held" started. It is as if the spirit of Martyn Bennett visited Rik in the studio and smiled on this one. And my favourite track of all on this CD is track 8 - "Learning to Let Go". When I heard this I could picture a little claymation Rik (in the style of Zara's awesome cover art) crawl out of my CD player, climb up my dash and sit there bobbing and weaving as he played out his heart - as only Rik can do. I could go on and on, but instead why don't you head on over to Rik's site and hear some of it for yourself! Thanks again Rik for the CD, I'm looking forward to when you're back our way again.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Openness of God or Panentheism?

I keep running into Clark Pinnock's notions of Open Theism. But haven't really had a chance to read exactly what it was all about. I picked up an article where he outlines Open Theism and have been pleasantly surprised to find out that it seems to line up with some of the panentheistic ideas that I have explored in the past. The sense that God self-limits in order to create a space where free choice can happen. This is that classic struggle between the extremes of fatalism and the blatent anthropomorphism of God. Both ideas which would be rightly rejected by orthodox Christianity. But what the Celtic notion of panentheism tries to convey is that God, who is all and in all, creates a space within Himself in which we find Creation. It is in this space that all things long for a return to the Creator. This space is a self-limiting act of God, very much a kenosis. This allows a vision of God that is both outside and within our reality, bounded and unbounded by God's own actions. It is also a space created in love. That is a very simplistic definition, but it should suffice for our comparison. Open Theism is similar in that is talks about God's current omniscience as a self-limitation. Yes, God is all knowing, but has restricted this to a current knowledge of all things. This doesn't preclude a plan for history, but it means that God chooses to use the open roads of true freewill to move forward in history. In other words God really believes in the project of humanity and continues to beckon us onward towards the God vision of life and freedom. Could this be the return to the Creator? I still have much to read and ponder, I do think that both ideas challenge our traditional notions (which are often too simplistic) of God's omni-characteristics. My hope is that both will help push us towards a true radical middle theology, one that affirms both God's diety and man's special role in history.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

I have hope today

I actually drove up a street that had only one Conservative sign on a lawn - the rest were predominantly NDP and Green Party with the odd Liberal sign thrown in. So much more refreshing than the awful sea of blue I live in. Also I got to hang out with my good friend Joseph, what could be better than that!

Monday, January 16, 2006

Olive Candle Bizarre

There are some real wackos out there in cyberspace. I recently got an email from a guy asking about our church. He actually tried to join the Freedom Vineyard Newsgroup. Having been burned before by letting just anyone in I have taken up the policy of telling them a bit about us before approving their invitation. This guy was friendly enough, but he kept directing me to this wacky little fundamentalist page called Olive Candle Voice. After some back and forth and me trying to explain politely that I didn't buy into a form of Christianity that blatently exchanged grace for legalism he politely informed me that I was not of the "True" church of the Messiah and that I should examine a few proof texts that apparently clenched my damnation. I politely snipped to the end of his message and replied with a thanks for his time and informed him that Freedom Vineyard would not be a good place for him to grow in his faith.

I could have left it at that but I had this nagging inside that maybe he was the Olive Candle Voice guy just trying to get me to read his heretical webpages and the phrase "twice the sons of hell" kept playing over and over in my head. So I decided to drop a nice friendly email to "Archie" the admin of Olive Candle Voice and see if he knew the other guy. Archie was quite rude, I suspected he had a dislike for pastors. Anyway, after one rude message I thanked him for his time and then got a surprise - don't you love surprises? He was deeply offended at something about me - but it was my name??? Apparently in his twisted little world having a name like Emanuel is blasphemy. (I hope he never catches wind of how common the name Jesus is in Latin countries, he'd have an aneurism.)

Despite Archie's displeasure in my family name, and yes it is the name I was born into. That name has denoted, to me at least, the rich blessing of God's presence in my life. It ever reminds me that God is near.

Well being the responsible individual that I am, I sent one final message to the original guy warning him of how warped this Olive Candle Voice group is. I said I didn't expect a reply and really I felt it a moral obligation to warn him of the dangers of such a group. I'm usually quite open to different expressions of Christianity, but having seen close friends involved in a cult this encounter made all the warning bells go clanging off in my head. I think the website is self-explanatory. My original contact forwarded my email to Archie who sent me a cute little reply saying he'd archived the message (guess he'll count this as being persecuted for his faith) in which I "slandered" him. I saved a copy myself, just for fun.

What frustrates me most about this situation is not being misunderstood, but that I know so many folks caught in a less blatent form of fundamentalism that completely blinds them to the value of other expressions of Christianity. They have been force fed proof texts and uneducated guesses at contexts so that they can't even think for themselves anymore. I used to be that way too. Now I can only remember with irony how me and two other fundamentalist pastors had a debate with some Jehovah's Witnesses, thinking they only know how to leap from choice verse to choice verse - yet we did the same damnable thing every Sunday.

So I'll end with a toast: Here's to not knowing everything. Watch out for the wolves people, enjoy God and enjoy life and don't let anyone rob your joy.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Isolationism [RANT]

You know one aspect of modern conservatives, especially fundamentalists, that I really dislike is this tendancy to isolate into Christian ghettos. Sure they emerge long enough to yell at people on the street and sure sometimes they find someone willing to be dragged down into the ghettos with them. But it is a long climb out. What fellowship does one have when all around them are only those who agree with every sentiment you express? The isolated lot suffer from this, and it robs them of their creative potential to reach the World that Jesus so loved. I am feeling a bit winded today because another of my friends who is stuck in such a system has decided I am too liberal for their liking. It is frustrating. It just plain sucks. Much as I hate isolationism as a philosophy, I hate it even more for the fact that it robs me of valuable friends and co-labourers in the Gospel. I've tried going after the system and it has just left me alienated. I've tried walking in both worlds, but always my cover is blown and I am thrust out of the ghetto. I don't mind being thrust out - but one of these times I would really like to drag a few good souls up to the surface. Maybe take them to where they can see the real freedom Christ brings.

Monday, January 09, 2006

You know you are getting old when...

I thought for sure I signed up for two first year (300 level) courses. Oh well. I have a 4th year scripture course (Johannine Literature) and a 300 level history (Contemporary Church 1650-present). I already had my first history class and it should be very good. But I am approaching my scripture class with fear and trepidation! First I don't know the professor other than to have heard he is strict (whatever that means). Second, I didn't expect a textbook - so finding a $122 book assigned to the course was a bit of a surprise. Resseguie's "The Strange Gospel: Narrative Design & Point of View in John", for $122 it better be very good. Well I will find out in the morning.

Had an email conversation with a King Jimmy only character. Why do those folks find me on the web? It takes me forever to write them because I have to constantly check my sarcasm when writing them (I write a sentence then erase it and write it more polite). And the inevitable end comes when they tell me I'm bound for the wrath of God because of whatever idiotic pet dogma they have banked their life upon. Why am I such a nice guy? Oh well, at least this one hasn't dragged on before the inevitable - one before this was brutal and went on forever.

Well Sharon is ready to put the tree away. Got to run.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Definition of a Myth

Reading "A Short History of Progress" by Ronald Wright. Which I can't put down. I caught some of the lectures this is based on one night on CBC, specifically his bit on Easter Island, that bit is worth the price of the book. Wright is an incredible storyteller and this story is worth telling. He unravels the myth of progress and shows us the lessons we continually refuse to learn from the past. It is eye openening.

In this little book he defines myth, I think this is worth quoting:

"Myth is an arrangement of the past, whether real or imagined, in patterns that reinforce a culture's deepest values and aspirations. ...Myths are so fraught with meaning that we live and die by them. They are the maps by which cultures navigate through time." (p.4)

Told you it was good.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Review: What Does God Expect

Now here is a great little book. The author, MJ Young, is an online friend from the Christian Gamers Guild. He has been Chaplain there as long as I can remember and often presents lengthy well thought out responses to some of the trickier posts that come up. I must confess that this made me a bit hesitant when he announced his new book "What Does God Expect?: A Gospel-based Approach to Christian Conduct", also it is one of those topics I always feel I already know enough about. Yeah, I know but I am being honest here. If MJ had published a book on gaming, well I'd get very excited. But because I have found MJ to be quite encouraging over the years I decided to give it a try. Well I was actually pleasantely surprised with the book.

First off it is a very managable size. Yeah MJ can be verbose on the Guild, but for the most part this book is very tight. It conveys one thing very well and doesn't get sidetracked into unimportant issues. I know I am the king of sidetracks. There is only one chapter that I felt got a bit technical and that was the last chapter on Guidance. It is the front of the chapter, once the ball starts rolling though MJ's insights are really well presented. I think this would be a great book for a small group that wants to understand what is the Christian life. In fact I am thinking of recommending it to a friend for a men's study I am part of, in which case I'll have to write some questions for each chapter, but that wouldn't be hard at all.

So what of the content? You must be curious. With a title like that you probably are afraid this is a book of Christian dos and don'ts. That is exactly what this book is not (there is one place this feels a bit strained but I'll save that for the end). MJ wants you to know that Christianity isn't just a revisinist legalism (he'd never use such a technical term in his book BTW) but it is a relational experience of a profoundly personal nature. It isn't about a homogenous code of ethics, but it is about a morality that flows out of a living relationship with God. Now you will have to trust me that MJ spends 71 pages unpacking this in a very readable and non-technical manner. I am not sure I could have done as well.

Just one real highlight of the book. I should say that there were several really great insights that MJ made throughout the book that either confirmed something I've held deeply or gave me a fresh perspective on an issue, but the one chapter that I think makes this a worthwhile read is the chapter on the Weaker Brother. As someone who has had the weaker brother card played on him (someone trying to manipulate me out of my freedom) it was really nice to take a detailed look at this section of scripture. I will let you read it for yourself.

There were only two things that struck me as odd about this book. First was MJs simplistic understanding of prayer in the Renewing Your Mind chapter. To be fair he does tell us upfront that his focus is on Scripture, but he reduces prayer to talking to God, which makes it more of an exercise than a form of communication. I know this falls out of his attempt to be brief here because later in the book he talks about God's communication to us. I would have loved to see a better treatment of prayer and worship in this section. The second I already promised to mention. That is because of an emphasis on the role of the bible in that same chapter, it almost feels like this is the new Christian do (law). I appreciate MJs comments on incorporating scripture into our devotional lives, and I agree that it is always beneficial. Maybe it was the fact that other aspects of devotional life were neglected, but it felt a bit forced.

There are lots of other great insights this book presents. If you are looking for a great book on Christian Living, and especially if you are sick and tired of all the rehashed legalism out there, then look no further.

Sunday, January 01, 2006


It is funny how time passes and reveal our priorities. I made a list at the start of my holidays, things I wanted to try and get done. Ever the realist I called it a wish list. Some of the things on there got done or touched on, but I would have loved to do more. For example, between her working and all the other obligations we had I did not get much one on one time with my wife (#3). I would love to think that is a top priority in my life, but it is sad to see that it isn't. I did get to take my oldest daughter to a New Years Eve party at the old Nepean city hall, that was great. And I did get in a whole day of gaming with my friends from Red Shirt Games. A day that was so exhausting Sharon and I just vegged after. We did watch the Years Funniest Commercials Wednesday night - that was nice to veg out on the couch together. I am not much of a New Years resolution kind of guy, but I do think that it is worthwhile taking up projects each year. Stuff that your reflection of the year that has gone by brings to the front. Actually this has been one of the better years in our marriage, I think after 10 years we are starting to get the hang of it. But I also see that there is more I could be doing to make our relationship more enjoyable for each of us. I hope your New Years is filled with life projects that bring you closer to God and to the ones you love.