Monday, April 21, 2014

Jesus is Alive!

Christ has died
Christ has risen!
Christ will come again

Come Lord Jesus, your bride awaits.

Monday, April 14, 2014

yes or no

image from truthliesdeceptioncoverups.info
One of the popular ways we have of making decisions is to pit two options against each other; we list the pros and cons, we have a debate, perhaps we poke at both until their weaknesses become evident, and then we make a decision about which one to align ourselves with. If we are honest, we are rarely completely satisfied with either choice, but we find ourselves leaning towards one of them, be it a political party, a candidate for a leadership position, the house we buy, the vacation we go on, or the meal we order in a restaurant.

The difference between Yes and No is usually not as clear-cut as we imagine (or wish) it to be. In Quebec, we just had a provincial election which resulted in a change of government. To all appearances, the people changed from being sovereigntists to federalists. But that is not the whole picture. Quebecers did not radically shift their priorities in the last 18 months. Basically, the cost of being aligned with the Parti Quebecois became too high: the PQ's activities were seen as promoting instability and division instead of prosperity and tolerance.

At this time of year, we in the Christian church find ourselves retelling the stories of the last days of Jesus' life on earth. Part of this narrative is the fluctuating popularity Jesus experienced in the last week before his death. How could crowds cheer him on, hailing him as their God-ordained king as he entered the holy city of Jerusalem and several days later be calling for his execution? How did the enthusiastic Yes become a murderous No?

I think it is important to note two qualifications of the Yes regarding Jesus (and to some extent, the voting example). First, it is not unanimous. Though there were crowds that supported Jesus, not everyone was a fan of his, not everyone wanted him to establish himself as a king, and not everyone wanted him to bring the kingdom of God. Even among his followers, there were disputes and disagreements. Our situation is no different as followers of Jesus today. We struggle to find unanimity, both in the church universal and inside ourselves. We are conflicted people, inside and out.

Second, the Yes is conditional. People found it easy to go along with the miracles, the healings, the compassion he showed to the underdog, the food giveaways, and the fascinating stories. But when it came to identifying with someone who was suffering public humiliation and facing retaliation for his words and actions, the crowd's No votes began to pull ahead of the Yes votes. Though we may think we are 100% committed to following Jesus, we are no different from Peter who found it difficult to keep the No at bay under duress.

This is not cause for discouragement, not at all, but an invitation to embrace wholehearted living. Being wholehearted people is difficult, and one might be prone to think that it requires rallying more Yes votes (an exercise in willful, positive thinking) and quashing the conflicting No's (those nagging doubts we have). On the contrary. Sociologist Brene Brown talks about the need to embrace uncertainty as part of cultivating wholeheartedness. It seems contradictory in some ways, but when one sees wholeheartedness as related to faith, it begins to make sense. Brown quotes Anne Lamott who writes that "The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty." Rarely do we find ourselves in a position of being 100% certain of Yes or 100% convinced of No. Though we would love to have certainty, most often we find ourselves in the swampy territory in-between Yes and No. Brown also quotes theologian Richard Rohr who says: "We love closure, resolution and clarity, while thinking that we are people of 'faith'! How strange that the very word 'faith' has come to mean its exact opposite." Letting go of certainty means we become vulnerable to fear, to anxiety, to risk, to getting it wrong. But it is also the place where we find our "legs of faith."

Brown defines faith this way: "Faith is a place of mystery, where we find the courage to believe in what we cannot see and the strength to let go of our fear of uncertainty." I believe that our desire to land with surety on Yes or No can be a hindrance to living fully, to loving wholeheartedly, and to cultivating trust and faith in God and in each other. Living between Yes and No is not so much a matter of going with the best option I have available but being able to trust in something beyond my own knowledge, my own reason, my own ability. Can I let go of Yes and No and instead, find my anchor in faith? in hope? in love?

I am leaning toward Yes on that.

Quotes taken from Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection (Hazelden, 2010), 90-91.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Live Blogging at the Society of Vineyard Scholars

Anyone interested in following along you can look for the hashtag #SVS2014 on twitter and Facebook.

Also Luke Geraty is live blogging throughout the conference.

Enjoy,

Frank Emanuel - Freedom Vineyard, Ottawa

Monday, March 24, 2014

Society of Vineyard Scholars



I'm pretty excited. When I was planning out my budget for conferences this year I thought that the Society of Vineyard Scholars meeting in Columbus was going to be out of reach. I made peace with this decision knowing that there are a lot of great things going on this year, including a National Gathering! But a couple weeks ago I started to sense in my spirit that God wanted me at the meetings in Columbus. I talked with Sharon, ran the numbers, and just put it in God's hands, resigned that maybe I was just feeling this way because I really love my SVS friends and have wanted to be more than just present on the facebook conversation.

It is just like God to wait. Last week I mentioned that I wasn't going to be able to make the meetings and was asked to PM (private message) one of the other members. He wanted to help, to get me there. I thought things are already worked out, it would mean Sharon needs to miss a shift and it will probably be too much for my benefactor to help. So I called Sharon and we chatted. She knew I was feeling that I should be there and she is an amazingly supportive person. She told me that it really only effected one shift and that she could likely move it. Bolstered I decided to run the numbers again and see what it would cost. Well flights had come down, which was encouraging. It was still going to be expensive but it was worth praying into. I also asked if there was still scholarship money from SVS itself - there was. Between SVS and my generous benefactor the cost would be cut in half! That actually made it doable. I even managed to line up shared accommodations for each night. So amazing.

Now I'm convinced that God has something special in store for me at the meetings. I'm looking forward to chatting with so many of the great scholars I've only met on facebook. It should be noted that at the last Society of Pentecostal Scholars meeting the Spirit moved powerfully. I'm praying that we will see a similar move of God at the SVS meetings.

Frank Emanuel - Ontario Region

Monday, March 17, 2014

Happy Saint Patrick's Day

Isn't it interesting that St. Patrick has captured the religious imaginations of Catholic and Protestant alike? Would that we lived our lives in such a way as to be a bridge between the deepest of schisms in our family.

Happy Saint Paddy's day everyone.

I arise today 
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the Threeness,
Through confession of the Oneness
of the Creator of creation.


I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth with His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection with His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgment of doom.


I arise today
Through the strength of the love of cherubim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In the hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In the predictions of prophets,
In the preaching of apostles,
In the faith of confessors,
In the innocence of holy virgins,
In the deeds of righteous men.


I arise today, through
The strength of heaven,
The light of the sun,
The radiance of the moon,
The splendor of fire,
The speed of lightning,
The swiftness of wind,
The depth of the sea,
The stability of the earth,
The firmness of rock.


I arise today, through
God's strength to pilot me,
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's host to save me
From snares of devils,
From temptation of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
afar and near.


I summon today
All these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel and merciless power
that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul;
Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me an abundance of reward.


Christ with me,
Christ before me,
Christ behind me,
Christ in me,
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ on my right,
Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down,
Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

Frank Emanuel - Freedom Vineyard, Ottawa

Monday, March 10, 2014

Equipping the Saints- Best Practices


One of the big challenges that ThoughtWorks was created to address is providing training that works for busy pastors, leaders, and congregations. In my academic work this challenge is combined with a desire to maximize profits - thankfully that hasn't been a concern for us here. As a love gift to our movement, we have been able to put together some curriculum and resources to help get the thinking and doing juices flowing. In Sky Gilbert's recent article (link) he talks about illusion that the internet is the best way forward as a solution for meeting today's education needs. Part of the problem is that we are too busy, and we need to find ways to slow down. Good theology, like any depth exercise, requires time. We wouldn't dream of hurrying into and out of the presence of God? So why do we think that God hasn't made us in that image too? The other critical piece of this is that we do not function best alone as individuals - we were meant to do these things in community. Apart from the historical fact that privatization of religion has led to some damaging expressions of Christianity - the simple verdict of God from scripture is that it is not good for us to be alone. 

Equipping the saints is always done better in groups, at the very least with a face-to-face meeting of the minds component. I like to think that what we do is also a meeting of the hearts - after all we do love praying for each other - but there is much more value in being able to have conversations about our faith and experiences. There are technologies that try to imitate this, but even in the most polite of internet forums a whole missing dimension of communication can lead to very awkward moments. I've seen more than my fair share of those over the years.

So my challenge this week is for you to think about how you are filling that need to deepen your faith, especially your theological reflection on said faith? What ways have you made time for better preparing yourself to "rightly handle the word of truth?" I think it is important. Let's make this our corporate challenge and find better ways to be equipped for every good work God would call us into.

Frank Emanuel - Vineyard ThoughtWorks Canada

Monday, March 3, 2014

spiritual face lift

Self portrait by Pablo Picasso
Image from www.wikipaintings.org
I watched the Oscars last night. For the most part, it was a fun evening which included some really good musical performances as well as a few inspiring moments. As was to be expected, the evening also gave rise to a certain amount of criticism and some unkind comments regarding wardrobe choices, plastic surgery, flubbed lines, disappointing performances, and aging stars. Because of Hollywood's heightened emphasis on youth, appearance, charisma, and glamour, people can be especially unforgiving that way.

This made me think about the kind of pressures we can put on each other in our faith communities. In what ways are we unconsciously (or even consciously) holding each other to standards which are unrealistic and unsustainable? Are these pressures prompting us to make superficial changes in order to to give the appearance of a vibrant and healthy faith community? A spiritual face lift, so to speak?

I feel this pressure on occasion; our faith community is not outwardly that impressive. We are relatively small, we have limited resources, people come and go a lot, and we don't offer many programs. In the past few weeks someone mentioned that we need to begin a children's church and a visitor observed that our church is in the pioneering stage, implying that we are still struggling to find our way and lay our foundations. The result was that I felt an uncomfortable pressure to change, to perform, to put on a better version of our community. And I know from experience that responding to that pressure is not healthy.

At least once a year we reaffirm what we value in our faith community. This is helpful in preventing us from making cosmetic changes just to alleviate the pressure we feel to be better or bigger or more impressive. Here are some of those values.

1. Let our faith community be known for how we love. Let us not prioritize dynamic teaching, edgy and creative worship, an impressive building, high-profile events, or growing youth and children's programs. Though these are all good, let us never put pressure on anyone (or ourselves) to deliver these things. Whatever is happening in our faith community, if it is to be of any lasting worth, must be the result of the movement of the Spirit of God among us, not a great five-year plan.

2. Let us not expect perfection from ourselves or from others. Let me bring my real self to the faith community and encourage others to do so as well. When I am having a hard time connecting with God or working through a difficult problem, let me embrace the privilege of having a community walk together with me in this. Let me learn to receive love, advice, encouragement, forgiveness, and friendship from those God has placed around me. Let me live humbly, openly, honestly, and truthfully with myself and others. It is in these humble, imperfect places that we often meet God in profound ways.

3. Let us not pressure people to stay the same. It can be disheartening to have people leave or quit or threaten to change things up when everything seems to be going great. We must resist the urge to enforce what seems to be working well and instead, rely on the movement and work of the Holy Spirit. Transformation and growth are natural when a group of people are walking with Jesus, but exactly what that looks like is not in our power to control or dictate. We must give people the freedom to change, mature, grow, risk, walk away, resign positions, and question their roles without feeling threatened or panicky. Nothing is as vital to the faith community as the presence of Jesus. And he is with the broken, the needy, the poor in spirit, the meek, the persecuted, the hungry; in short, he is with those who admit they don't have it all figured out.

4. Let us not pressure people to change. Sometimes I see areas where people need healing and transformation and try to help it along. That never turns out well. The best way to help others is to love them just as they are, to walk with them on their journey as much as I can, to model transformation openly, and to invite the Holy Spirit to have her way. Changing people is not in my job description. Loving them is.

5. Let us be faithful without being rigid. One of the telltale marks of a surgical or chemical face lift is the accompanying tightness and lack of facial expression. The face becomes unnaturally rigid and as a result, can exhibit a permanent look of strain or surprise; it can also seem disproportionate, resembling a caricature. The last thing we want is for our faith community to be limited in expression or to be an unnatural representation of the real thing. Faithfulness, on the other hand, has little to do with maintaining a certain look and everything to do with committing ourselves to love each other through good times and bad, in times of plenty and times of lack, in youth and through old age. Faithfulness sees the beauty in it all.

May our actions, our language, our choices, and our interactions with each other show that we value much more than what things look like on the outside.