Aug 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) 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.

Aug 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.

Aug 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

Aug 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.

Aug 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.