Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas

From the ThoughtWorks Team, Merry Christmas. May Christ be born anew in each of our hearts tonight. May his beautiful life be reflected in our lives this coming year.

Monday, December 16, 2013

What drew you to the Vineyard?

When I was a young pentecostal evangelist I fell under the delusion that the Vineyard was a cult, cult in the bad way. Other than the music, which for some reason I was ok with, I wanted nothing to do with us. In fact when Wimber came to Ottawa I was warning my pastor friends to stay away. Yeah, I was a pretty intense young man. So when I found myself thrown out of ministry in my church, in a strange city where almost all my friends were in the church that I wasn't feeling the best about, I was surprised at how many people told me I should check out a Vineyard kinship. Tucking my tail between my legs I made a call to the Airport church and just happened to get a lady who had a kinship not far from me (I was in Clarkson, Mississauga). I told her I couldn't come Sundays because technically I was on staff at another church - but I didn't share the details. Her response was, "most of our people don't go to our church." How could that be?

My story of coming to the Vineyard captures many of the things that endear me to our family to this day. I want to share a few of those things with you and I'd love to hear your stories and why you love our family.

1) The Vineyard is a Place of Welcome

I was welcomed into that kinship without any question of who I was, where I came from, how messed up I was, nothing. I was welcomed not just into a safe building, but into someones livingroom. I love that our sending church has the slogan: come as you are, you will be loved. That is exactly what I experienced, and it is exactly what I hope others experience when they come to Freedom. I've been in inner city ministries for long enough to know how big a risk it is to open your home up. In fact I've even been host to at least one con artist because of this. But I'm convinced there is no other way. I'm not naive enough to think that we are immune to being taken advantage of - but the welcome is about demonstrating something that flies in the face of the possible dangers. It reflects the risk that God took on us when God welcomed us into the family.

2) The Vineyard Blesses the Whole Church

I learned much more of this as I studied some of our history, but my immediate experience was that denominational affiliation wasn't the criteria for the Vineyard to minister to me. It was more than likely that my new kinship home would heal me up so that I could go back to the pentecostal church and be a blessing there. The reality was that as they prayed into me, strengthened me, encouraged me, I felt God call me back to Ottawa where there was no Vineyard at the time. There I took the blessings my kinship poured into me and poured it into serving an inner city Baptist church in Vanier. This is a form of ecumenism that I value deeply - blessing those who will let you bless them. It is not the kind of ecumenism that denies who we are, but draws on each movements strengths to make something better - we are better together. It was also the love for the whole Church that I was becoming awakened to as God broke my heart over how I had become so critical of other churches (one of the chief reasons I was thrown out of ministry actually). When we bless the whole church, without being obsessed with building our own churches, then we reflect Christ's love for his Bride.

3) The Vineyard is not Afraid to be Prophetic

In my first kinship experience I sat sheepishly for most of the time, but then during our ministry time a few of them gathered around me and responded to a prompting to sing Father's heart songs over me. I think that was the first time I had cried in ages. This led to words being spoken over me. Humble, unpretentious words or encouragement and expressions of God's longing for me. I was used to a kind of controlled prophetic experience - it is hard to express but the context where I was serving had this sense of the prophetic being about laying ahold of some sort of perceived authority. But in that kinship there was a different sense, new to me, of listening to what the Spirit was saying and stumbling forward with full awareness that they might not be getting it right. But the thing was, the words spoken over me that night still echo in my spirit, and when I am in places where people prophecy over me, it is not uncommon for them to actually speak some of those same words and share the same imagery. When we do this we reflect God's desire to speak to us.

4) The Vineyard did not Ask me to be Something I was Not

I'm actually a jeans and t-shirt kinda guy. But even if I wasn't, the Vineyard was willing to take me as is. In the pentecostal church there were a lot of expectations placed on you. You pretended a lot. I remember struggling
with masturbation, but not having anywhere that it would be ok to talk about my struggles. In fact when I did bring it up with the senior pastor he just looked at me like I was an alien or something. What was most brutal to me was that I spent most of my time in and around the church, so most of my time I was maintaining some sort of mask. It is not surprising that I had internalized a lot of anger in those days. Almost immediately in the Vineyard I encountered people who were quite open about their struggles - and surprisingly no one pounced on them (believe me I watched for this). I'm not sure healing is possible when everything is bottled up inside, but even so it took me years to take advantage of this in the Vineyard. When we create safe places for people to be real, we reflect God's desire to bring us to wholeness and healing.

These are just four of the things that drew me to the Vineyard. What drew you in? What have you continued to make a priority in your life and ministry? Let's share our stories as a gift to each other.

Frank Emanuel, Freedom Vineyard

Monday, December 9, 2013

Becoming a Fan of your People

I play a lot of games, and lately I've been running a lot of a game called Dungeon World. It is a fantasy role playing type game where a group of people gather to tell a story together. It is a lot of fun, and the emphasis is on telling great stories instead of fiddling with mechanics. In other words it is one of the simplest games I've played, but at the same time one of the most rewarding. When you run this game as the game master you are in charge of keeping the story moving along, creating a world, and handling the story arcs. The rest of the people are characters. They provide some really sage advice for the game master one piece of which is: be a fan of the heroes. They define this as putting them in dangerous situations in which their particular talents can shine. I've been thinking about that a lot and it seems I apply this in other areas of my life already.

When I teach, I'm my students' biggest fan. My greatest joy is working with them until they gain insights into new ideas and make connections they hadn't thought of before. When I approach my students this way the in class conversations are always richer and I get lots of appreciative comments from the students after class. It is usually easier to maintain this when the classes are new because you are with the students for a short period of time and often see them primarily at their best. You can easily encourage this best.

But pastoring is not a short term prospect, and often you see people at their worst. Yet it is still so important to be a fan of the people you pastor.

Being a fan means you encourage them to be their best. You believe in them. You cheer them on. You rejoice in their responses to challenges. Life throws some vicious curve balls, isn't it amazing when your people respond from depths even they did not realize they had.

We had a young guy come out to a prophetic workshop in our community. He was in the process of coming to faith. At one point he was the recipient of an exercise in speaking words over people and so went home with the sheet of paper on which the words of encouragement were printed. Talking to him some time later he confessed to having anger issues, but that whenever he'd feel angry he would pull out the list and read them, finding the comfort and encouragement he needed to work through those anger issues. I had the privilege of watching him grow in his faith and become a very safe (and generous) person. I'm a fan of this guy.

Being a fan does not mean ignoring problems that arise for people. It is about encouraging the best in them, even in moments when they want to be at their worst. Sometimes being a fan means walking through really hard moments with people - always believing, always hoping. Doesn't that sound like love? (1 Cor 13:4-7)

So I want to encourage you to be a fan of the people God has asked you to pastor. Oh and play more games, there are good things to learn from games.

Frank Emanuel - Freedom Vineyard, Ottawa, ON

Monday, December 2, 2013

strange Jesus

Buddy Jesus (uncyclopedia.wikia.com)
When I started out studying 1 John together with our faith community, I thought that we would learn a lot about love. We did learn that, for sure, because John is absolutely besotted with God's love, but the theme that runs through the letter from beginning to end is really more about addressing the confusion that comes from being presented with different ideas/versions of Jesus.  The writer wants to make sure that the listeners/readers are aligned with the true Messiah, the true Jesus, the One who was from the beginning, and not a strange Jesus that has little resemblance to the one that the disciples knew. If you have any contact with teaching, music, books, or media put out by and for Christians, you will perhaps notice that there are many different emphases out there today as well. (A brief aside: I hesitate to use the word 'Christian' as an adjective because I believe it is meant to refer to a person, not be used as a modifier to distinguish one brand of music or clothing or book from another; that's a rather weak function for the word, in my opinion. And now back to the topic at hand.). This can lead to confusion in followers of Jesus. Here are a few examples.

Jesus is the overcoming Messiah.  This was a popular notion in early Christianity because the Jews were living in a time of repression and subjugation, and they wanted a political figure to lead them into freedom. These days, we also hear "overcoming" teachings and often they are filled with that same desire to be in a position of power instead of the constant underdog. Just today I listened to a teacher repeat the familiar phrase: "Have you read the end of the book? We win!" Really? I thought the so-called "end of the book" focused on a Lamb that was slain, the scarred, sacrificial One worthy of our endless worship. Though there is a lot of turmoil in Revelation, it is never about a power grab. If it were, it would not be consistent with the life of Jesus, the Lamb of God. Overcoming the world is more about goodness always being bigger than evil and forgiveness being stronger than revenge. It is about darkness never being able to snuff out light because darkness has no substance. It is about coming into wholeness.

Jesus is the righteous Judge. Unfortunately, some Christians believe that since we are now favoured friends of God, we have the right to pronounce God's judgment on people. I have heard some preachers speak words of outright condemnation to those who are in certain types of sin. Anyone who has read Matthew 7 should realize this is not what Jesus had in mind, and John writes that if we think we are without sin, we are badly mistaken. Judgment puts us in opposition to people (we are on the good side, they are on the bad), but one brief look at the life of Jesus shows us that over and over again Jesus clearly put himself in solidarity with others. Jesus calls us to align ourselves with the broken, the sinners, the unclean, the thoughtless, not to call down judgment on them.

I don't think I am a particularly judgmental person, but there are certain things that really annoy me. One of them is when people use their cell phones in the movie theatre. It is uncanny how I always seem to be sitting next to someone who likes to use their cell phone to text a friend or play a game or look up some nonsense during the movie. It is extremely rude behaviour, according to the law of Matte. A few weeks ago I read something on not judging people and was trying to go judgment-free for a week. It was going pretty well, I thought, and then Dean and I went to see a movie. A lady sat beside me and I thought: "Great! She is not one of those teenagers who will be on her phone during the movie." But I was wrong. She whipped out her cell phone and started texting before the movie ended and I whispered to Dean, "Why am I always sitting beside people who feel they have to use their phone in a movie theatre? I can't believe it!" And then I felt it. That thing that the Holy Spirit does so well: conviction.  I heard a gentle voice challenge me: "You think you are better than her." After my initial defense, "What? No!" I had to agree. Yes, I did think I was better than all the movie texters out there. I held them in disdain, just like a pious Pharisee looking down on those poor, ignorant slobs who didn't know how sinful they were. I decided to let my judgment go and looked again at the texting woman. This time I saw a beautiful person, impeccably dressed and with golden hair, having a conversation with a good friend via her phone. And I was no longer annoyed. I felt a strange affinity toward her and hoped that all was well in her life.

Jesus is a demanding Messiah. Many of the people I encounter who have been involved in the church culture for some time often believe that God is a strict and demanding master. There are commandments to keep, Sunday meetings to go to, tithes to give, and even if you do all those right, you are sure to be tripped up by attitudes which are not right. It is difficult for people trained in law-keeping to understand that the best way to encounter Jesus is to adopt a vulnerable, open, receiving posture. We cannot manufacture righteousness on our own, though many of us try. I cannot call up a robust love for the unlovely (movie texters) from within myself; I am too bankrupt. The only way to be holy is to receive the Holy One, every day and every moment. And out of that fullness, that abundance which comes from being immersed in love and beauty and goodness, we are able to shower love on others and joyfully serve our community. The equation does not work in reverse; I don't make the first move, it always starts with God. No amount of effort on my part will make me more like Jesus. Only a response to God's generous invitation, only a trusting surrender to his call to "Come, follow me," can put me on that path. Jesus does not demand; he invites, he beckons, he calls, and he waits.

While all these things listed above have some truth to them (Jesus does overcome evil, Jesus does judge righteously, and Jesus does ask for our total surrender), an emphasis on any one quality can push out the fuller, more intricate, and complex picture of Jesus that we get in the gospels. By mistakenly emphasizing only one trait we can end up with a strange Jesus, a lopsided Jesus, one that bears little resemblance to the true Jesus. The writer's final exhortation in 1 John is this: "My little children, keep away from idols" and this includes the strange versions of Jesus that we tend to fashion out of our own lack or desire. One of the primary tests to help us discern whether or not we are following the true Jesus is to take a look at how we treat each other.
"My loved ones, let us devote ourselves to loving one another. Love comes straight from God, and everyone who loves is born of God and truly knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. Because of this, the love of God is a reality among us: God sent His only Son into the world so that we could find true life through Him. This is the embodiment of true love: not that we have loved God first, but that He loved us and sent His unique Son on a special mission to become an atoning sacrifice for our sins. So, my loved ones, if God loved us so sacrificially, surely we should love one another. No one has ever seen God with human eyes; but if we love one another, God truly lives in us. Consequently God’s love has accomplished its mission among us." - 1 John 4: 7-12 (The Voice)

Monday, November 11, 2013

Worship as an exercise in Trust

Often when I'm giving instruction to new worship leaders I talk about trust as a central aspect of worship leading. Trust is a key to creating an atmosphere where others can also worship.

The reason trust is so important is that worship is an incredibly intimate expression of our faith. When we are able to freely worship we are better able to encounter and be encountered by God. Not that God isn't always present, but there is something profound that can happen in a safe worship atmosphere. Not the least of which is a softening of our hearts towards all God has for us.

How do we foster an atmosphere of trust for our worshiping community? 

One aspect that is often overlooked is that of familiarity. A worship leader has an opportunity to craft something amazing from elements that resonate deeply in a community. In some of our settings an ancient future vibe is powerful, simply because it resonates deeply with those who have Catholic and Anglican roots. Those same elements can be alarming to those who have no such background. That doesn't mean a worship leader can't use those elements, but they need to surround new things with those things that are familiar. This gives the worshiper a point of entry into the experience. It lets them feel included and even valued.

One way we've made ancient elements accessible to those without a traditional background is to surround them in familiar music. In fact I encourage a worship leader to develop a list of solid standards and standbys. When God is leading us to linger in worship it is those standards that let the congregation continue with very little effort on the part of those leading. And those moments are often some of the best.

Another way of understanding trust is in the song choices themselves. Some of our worship leaders love new songs. And you might think, who doesn't. But the problem with too many new songs is that it leaves some feeling lost in the service. Worship in corporate settings is meant to include, welcome and invite our participation. Not put up barriers to that participation. So limiting the number of new songs, and ensuring that they get good rotation when the congregation is learning them makes sense.

The other aspect of worship songs and trust that I've felt more as I've matured in my theological understanding is what actually are the words we are singing. I am probably not alone in raising the odd eyebrow at some of the lyrics we sing. I've even taken to not singing songs I can't completely mean, or even adjusting them slightly so that they are more sound. A good worship leader should minimize this. I remember when I was a young worship leader in a Pentecostal church in Mississauga. A very popular song at that time went, "Jesus, we entrone you..." I introduced that to our group and many already knew it so it went well. But the pastor actually asked me to remove it from the rotation. At the time I was frustrated. But he explained the theological problem - we don't enthrone God, we acknowledge God as King. It's a funny thing, but what we sing is actually important. The words shape our beliefs, and they should reflect our beliefs accurately as well.

So I'm interested in what ways you have shaped worship leading in your contexts so that it is more accessible and richer for your communities. Please share some stories with us.

May your love and devotion for God ever grow, and your worship be sweet.

Frank Emanuel - Freedom Vineyard, Ottawa

Monday, November 4, 2013

Christmas anxiety

Image from www.hi-wallpapers.com
Christmas is coming.  It always fills me with a bit of anxiety, I have to admit. So much work, so much hype, so many expectations, so much shopping, so much pressure to make it fabulous.  Every year I wonder if I am up for the whirlwind that Christmas has become. Mostly, I fear that I am losing something important in the crazy mix of sacred rituals, out-of-control consumerism, and cultural trappings that make up Christmas in North America.

Now before you go on and call me the Grinch (I do have those tendencies at times, it's true), let's get back to a few basics. First, Jesus is the greatest gift of love and life that has ever appeared on this earth and no tradition, event, gift, or dramatic pageant will ever adequately celebrate the incredible appearance of the Creator of the world as a humble baby on this earth.  Second, the way in which Jesus came to live among us was also underwhelming, disgraceful, unexpected, dirty, weak, and even offensive. It is impossible to truly capture the scandal of it in any Christmas tradition. Third, remembering and celebrating the birth of Jesus are important and necessary, but it is equally necessary to align what we celebrate with how we celebrate. If we neglect to keep the two elements in sync, we will end up with a celebration that has little resemblance to the original event or its intent.

Let me suggest that there is a close connection between celebrating Christmas and partaking in communion. The care with which we ingest the body and blood of Christ can be a helpful model for how we as followers of Jesus celebrate his birth. A brief look at 1 Corinthians 11 shows that there are some significant parallels between the two remembrances. Paul wrote to the Corinthians to address some problems they were having, including some unfortunate behaviours and attitudes on display when they gathered to celebrate communion. It isn't much of a stretch to apply these warnings to our contemporary Christmas celebrations. Are our celebrations bringing out the worst instead of the best in people?  Are there divisions happening, is there competition between people, are criticisms being tossed around? Are people prone to overeating and drunkenness, thereby neglecting the poor and hungry and leaving others out of the celebration? Has the celebration become exclusive and indulgent instead of inclusive and generous?

Paul then reminded people what the celebration was all about. Our celebration is to remember Jesus. By our words and actions our celebration enacts the gift of God. Our celebration is meant to draw us back to Jesus, to remind us that Jesus was among us then and is among us now.  We must not let our celebrations become familiar and mundane.  Let us examine our motives and test our hearts every time we celebrate. Let us approach the celebration with holy awe. If we neglect to do this, it could put us in an unfortunate situation.  Let us be reverent and courteous with one another. Let us not turn our celebration into a family squabble or an eating and drinking binge. This celebration is a spiritual time. So let us feast on the love of God and invite others to join us at the table.

This is the Christ-mass.

Matte from Montreal

Monday, October 21, 2013


This morning National Team member Larry Levy posted the above spoken word piece. It gets at the heart of a couple things I've been thinking about lately. First the heart of my connection to the Vineyard is one of family, I'll tell you a bit of my journey home. Second it is about the struggles we all face as a movement moves into the future trying to be faithful to a vision God has given, one that I think family is profoundly suited to meet. Let's start with my journey to give a little context.

I love that Miriam Swaffield names family a foundational truth. For me I found spent my early ministry years in a church that discarded me when I began to push at the boundaries, it seems some communities are not equipped for people that ask "too many" questions. As a result I was left trying to pick up the pieces. Had I missed God? Had I made a mistake uprooting my life and moving to a city where I knew no one to minister tirelessly without wage (I held down a full time job at a pet food store so I could work as worship leader, youth pastor as well as lead the charge on evangelism)? My friends outside of the church I worked with kept telling me that I should go to a Vineyard. So I did. I remember calling the Airport (this is a few years before the Toronto Blessing) Vineyard and explaining that I was technically on staff at my church but wanted to go to a kinship. The lady who answered told me most of the people in her group didn't attend their Sunday service and welcomed me. I still remember that first night. I was feeling like I had missed God and was a stranger in a strange land. That night we sang songs, hung out, and then a couple began to sing over me. They sang songs of the Father's love for me. One lady even shared a vision, one that God keeps bringing me back to year after year. One that reminds me that the journey is not always easy, but it is that journey that God is using to refine and mature me. I literally left that meeting bubbling over with joy again.

Now it wasn't all roses after that. In fact it was pretty hard. I still had issues to resolve with the church I had been working with. But my new Vineyard family continued to love me and invest into me despite getting so little in return. They showed me what family is like. Never giving up. Always hoping. Always trusting God to do more. They gave me the strength I needed to start putting my life back together again. I ended up moving back to Ottawa, really as a stepping stone to returning to my hometown of Truro (where I first met Larry actually) to figure out what was next. There was no Vineyard in Ottawa at that time. But God soon made it clear to me that I was to stay in Ottawa, at least for a season. I landed in an inner city Baptist church where I eventually served as a lay minister. It was an amazing church, but there was still a longing in me for family. I remember when the senior pastor brought me into the office to propose me working towards ordination, they actually wanted to send me to seminary. It was a hard moment because my dream had been to study theology, but much as I loved this church I just wasn't a Baptist at heart. In praying through what I was to do next I caught wind of a new Vineyard about to be planted in Ottawa. I knew that I needed to be part of that. I needed to serve that Vineyard and give back what it had given me. So I sought out Jim and Mary Rennicks and a funny thing happened - they recognized me. Turns out Jim and Mary pastored the Alliance church in the backyard of the house I grew up in. It gets even more amazing. They had brought in the evangelist who saw me in a pizza shop (where I worked) and God told to go pray for me. I met him a year after, I had gotten saved after he went back to his hotel room to pray for me, at a conference for Christian leaders in Ottawa (Vision 2000). So basically, my Vineyard family, even before I knew them as family, had been instrumental in my whole journey into the Kingdom.

Family is a big deal for me. I love my Vineyard family. They've been with me through some really tough moments. Loved me, prayed for me, believed in me even when my faith led me to risk in ways they didn't understand.

It is family like that which will bring into the future. We have a wonderful diversity, a richness that will take us forward. As I've been ministering more formally in the Vineyard I know that God leads us into different places to bring the gospel to even the lowest, most needy places. I know we don't always understand or even agree with the directions this leading takes others. But when we listen to the stories of people finding family, we learn to trust that God knows the score. God is concerned with what we say love always does - going to the lowest places to lift them up. I've been watching as those "lowest" places grow more and more diverse. People I know and love are both struggling with this and pursuing the lost in new mission fields. To me that DNA that led the group in Mississauga to welcome a broken Pentecostal minister continues to extend the Kingdom invitation throughout our country. This is perhaps our greatest strength - the willingness to love beyond ourselves. It grows our family.

I think the call in the spoken word piece is that family is what matters here. Not family as in we all look the same. But family as something deeper, something that reminds us who we really are and always hopes for a better future together, richer because of our diversity, stronger because of our faith. To me that is family. You, in the Vineyard, are my family. And I am so grateful for you all.

Would love to hear your thoughts on family.

Frank Emanuel - Freedom Vineyard, Ottawa

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

reverse theology

Tintoretto's Cain and Abel
This past week I have been reading Miroslav Volf's excellent book, Exclusion & Embrace. Volf, a Croatian theologian (now working in the USA) who has seen the terrible things that neighbours can do to each other, brings a very personal and challenging perspective to the topic of how we live with others. One of the stories he includes in the book is the familiar tale of Cain and Abel, the brothers who didn't get along (see Genesis 4). Let me paraphrase his observations.

At first glance the two brothers appear to be equals: born of the same parents, both engaging in respectable occupations (one a tiller of the ground and the other a keeper of sheep), both offering appropriate sacrifices to God, and neither of them taking centre stage in the story (a literary device is used whereby the names are mentioned alternately). However, there is an undercurrent of inequality in the story. At the birth of her first son, the mother issues a proud and joyous proclamation ("I have produced a man with the help of the Lord.") Cain's name is one of honour, meaning "to produce," "to bring forth." On the other hand, Abel, the second son, is not received with much excitement. His name reflects his inferiority: Abel means "breath," "vapor," "sheer transience," "worthlessness," "nothingness." Some scholars put forth the idea that Cain would have been a rich farmer, a wealthy landowner whereas Abel would have struggled to keep a small flock. When they brought offerings to God, the great Cain brought simply "the fruit of the ground" whereas poor Abel brought the best parts ("fat portions").  Perhaps Abel was more aware of his dependence on God. Whatever the case, God noted the difference and the inequality between them became clear.

In a move that we later see echoed in the many inversions and reversals that Jesus became known for, we see God upsetting the status quo. Abel (not just his offering) is accepted and Cain is rejected. And this upsets Cain, to put it mildly. Volf observes that first came envy, that Abel (a nobody) should be regarded and Cain (a somebody) should be disregarded by God. Then came anger at both God and Abel, because God's version of justice offended Cain's sense of justice and importance. Volf writes: "Cain was confronted with God's measure of what truly matters and what is truly great. Since he could not change the measure and refused to change himself, he excluded both God and Abel from his life. Anger was the first link in a chain of exclusions." (Volf, 95).

I don't know about you, but I find comfort in many of Jesus' reversals: strangers are embraced, the poor are included, sinners are welcomed to the feast.  I identify with the outsider and am grateful for the invitation of Jesus to be a part of God's story, God's kingdom. What I am not as comfortable with, and what I find here in the story of Cain and Abel, is that I might be on the opposite side of the inversion: I might be Cain. Like this older brother, I have done everything right to the best of my ability. I am doing quite well, working hard and reaping good rewards in this life. There is a certain amount of favour and honour that I feel at times. It seems like justice. But is this God's justice, God's measure of greatness, of what truly matters? Or mine?

Here is another example. In Jeremiah we read about the unpopular message that the prophet brings to the people of Israel: they are to submit to the rule of the Babylonians and go willingly into captivity. This went against their idea of justice! Surely they should remain in their land, fight for what is theirs, stay with their beloved temple, and hold out against Babylon! But God, through Jeremiah, instructs them to surrender, go live in Babylon, be ruled by a foreigner, build homes and have families, and pray for the blessing of their captors. God's version of justice seems like a slap in the face. However, God promises that captivity will be life while holding out against Babylon will be death. Submit and live, Jeremiah urges! It all just seems so backwards! Putting ourselves under the leadership of a corrupt government? It makes no sense! And this is because we are Cain. We have assumed the position of favour and don't understand how it could be yanked out from under us.

So how can we write a better ending for the story where we are Cain? Here are some questions to ask: when my idea of justice is out of sync with what God says, with what Jesus demonstrates, am I willing to embrace a new outlook? Am I willing to say, "I obviously got this wrong. Let me learn what is important to you, God. Let me learn from my poor brother whom I dismissed as lesser than me. Let me willingly give up this place of favour and learn what true greatness, true service is." This inversion is a difficult one, I admit. It is moving from a place of independence to dependence. It is replacing self-sufficiency with surrender. It is giving up our well-laid plans for the future in exchange for one day at a time with the God who provides. But it is the better way, the only way forward. It is the way that leads to life and not to death.

For more on this, see Miroslav Volf, Exclusion & Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation. Abingdon Press, 1996.

Matte from Montreal

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Getting Familiar with the Vineyard

When I came aboard ThoughtWorks I shared a concern that churches in our movement need to get back to our roots. The reality of being a young movement adopting great people from many different streams of evangelicalism means that many of our churches came from quite different roots. What we all have in common is that we've seen something in the Vineyard that inspires us to cry out for more of God. We might say that what they saw was the Kingdom, but a more helpful answer is that we saw what happens when a group of people commit to the vision of God's Kingdom presented in our Kingdom theology. It is this theological basis that makes us different than other Pentecostal and Charismatic movements. The way that this theology framed our practice really made it easy for evangelicals, of many different stripes, to embrace a more Spirit orientated faith. Even though there was a great felt kinship, the reality was that many of our churches did not address the growing theological disparity in our movement - and as a result we all end up longing for the Kingdom but going about walking out our desires for the Kingdom in different ways, ways that sometimes take us away from what the Vineyard was and is all about. In order to meet this need the ThoughtWorks team has included several modules in our curriculum that provide an adequate introduction to the theology and ethos that produced the Vineyard. If you are looking for a set of Vineyard basics, these courses are a great place to start.

God Thoughts Year 1 - Naturally Supernatural

Using Gary Best's great little book on the subject, this book gives you fundamental insights into the practical outworking of the Vineyard's Kingdom theology. Best of all, in the assignment you are asked to put the insights from this book into practice.

God Thoughts Year 2 - Breakthrough

Using Derek Morphew's introductory theological text this book provides the Biblical and theological foundations for the Kingdom theology that Gary Best writes about in Naturally Supernatural. This theology is the biggest difference between Vineyard theology and other Pentecostal/Charismatic theologies. Our emphasis is not on God restoring something lost or fulfilling covenant, rather it is about the eschatological reality that broke into history through Jesus and continues to show up in our midst. Morphew does a great job of identifying this theme through both Testaments and tracing out implications for Kingdom living.

Biblical Foundations Year 3 - Nothingsgonnastopit

Bill Jackson provides an engaging biblical survey through the hermeneutic (fancy word for interpretive) lens of Kingdom. Nothingsgonnastopit is available as a book or DVD set.

Kingdom Encounters Year 3 - Doing Healing

Alex Venter is one of my favourite writers on how Kingdom theology works out in practical action. Doing Healing explores the way that the Vineyard approaches healing prayer. Again, this is an area where theological differences are important. In many covenant approaches a failure to see healing is usually attributed to a lack of faith or hidden sin, but in a Kingdom theology framework it is more often attributed to the tension of the now and not yet that we live in as we await the return of Christ. It frees us to pray with expectation but without condemnation when we do not see healing. It also provides a framework for everyone to participate, because healing is not dependent on our actions but on God's inbreaking.

Ancient Future Church Year 1 - Quest for the Radical Middle

Rounding out these courses is Bill Jackson's wonderful history of the Vineyard. It is important that we remember where we came from so that we do not lose sight of the course we are called to pursue. I love, in particular, Todd Hunter's AVC USA address "The Church that I Would Build: The 21st Century Vineyard..." which is a call to all the Vineyard can be as a unique contribution to the Church for the sake of the world God so loves.

These five courses are a helpful starting place for anyone wanting to know more about who we are as a movement. You can find them and all our curriculum at the ThoughtWorks website.

Frank Emanuel - National ThoughtWorks Chairperson

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Communicating Understandably

Since the moment Jesus spoke the words of commission to his followers, believers have wrested with a huge question:  How do we connect with those around us and effectively communicate the gospel of Jesus?  At my church, we are asking this question as we answer God’s call to increased engagement with the community around us.

While I realize that we are communicating the person of Jesus to others, we are also communicating a number of theological ideas.  (I’d define theology here as “Thoughts about God.”)  These theological ideas give the gospel and Jesus (who is the center of gospel) context for a clearer understanding to undergird faith and relationship.

The sensitive and observant among us will readily recognize the significant gap between what is familiar to us believers and what is familiar to the world around us.

We believe Jesus is the one through whom we are actually able to know God.  We believe in Jesus as the incarnate Word, having ministered among us, suffered and died, buried, eternally resurrected, and coming again.  We acknowledge the Bible as the primary source of our revelation about Jesus.  We acknowledge a long history as his church; rich with revelation, reflection, and tradition.  We know this stuff.  We are immersed in these contexts that give our present thoughts and experience meaning.  We care about this stuff.

Some people, however, don’t know this stuff.  They don’t share our contexts.  They generally don’t think about this stuff.  Most often, they don’t really care about this stuff– or at least try not to.  Their cares and concerns are devoted to a numerous variety of other things.  They may be familiar with the name of Jesus, but it doesn’t often go too much further than that.  Most often they’re not very familiar with many stories about him, the things he said and did, and what he was really about.  They’re even less familiar with the full set of Biblical stories and Biblical ideas that give us so much context for our thinking.

There is this seeming chasm between the knowledge and experience of Jesus we have and others don’t.  There can also be this chasm between how believers and non-believers view foundational things like the nature of our world and our place and purpose in it.  The Biblical worldview and our cultural worldviews are quite remarkably different.  

Given these and other foundational differences, we can see with some clarity the incredible challenge we face to communicate Jesus across this gap in a way that will be understood and possibly even received.  If we’re not mindful of the issues within communicating across these gaps, we can inadvertently communicate in such a way that we are misunderstood at best and at worst - we totally freak people out and alienate ourselves.

One of my favorite stories told by John Wimber, the founder of the Vineyard movement, relates to this issue.  John was a successful musician working with the band “The Righteous Brothers”.  After coming to the Lord – knowing pretty much nothing about Jesus or the Bible – John recognizes he needs to go to church.  When he gets to this church, John is greeted by a man who exuberantly asks him, “Hey brother, have you been washed in the Blood?”  (My paraphrased recollection of his response) “Umm, what?  What’s this all about??  Is this some sort of strange ritual that I’ve got to do to be able to come in??  I don’t think I want to take a bath in blood so I can come to church!  I can’t believe I gave up drugs for this…”  And really – what was a guy from his context supposed to think upon hearing that?  If it weren’t for God’s grace working in John, we believers could have scared him away for good.

For those of us who know what it means and understand string of Biblical references and ideas – is being washed in the Blood a good thing?  Absolutely.  To someone knows nothing of the ancient Jewish sacrificial system, the covenants, blood atonement, and all our Christian contexts – it just sounds freakishly weird.  It’s not a good greeting to a stranger.  It’s a conversation starter – but maybe not the kind of conversation you’re hoping for.

Even in the most innocent of circumstances, misunderstanding and alienation can happen quickly.  When people have little or even zero grid for what we’re talking about it’s necessary to pay attention both to what we are saying and to how they are responding. If we’re sensitive enough to notice a reaction that says they’re not getting it, that’s a clear signal that we need to communicate better.  This is one area where the church in general hasn’t always done well when trying to communicate with the world.  We will enthusiastically go on about things that people don’t yet care about, that they have no connection to or reason believe, and we’ll communicate in a way where there’s no context to understand.  “Have you been washed in the Blood?” (Washing in blood?!?!)  “You need to be redeemed, justified, sanctified to be righteous and walking in holiness, etc, etc...”  (Uhh…Can I get my dictionary?)  “The Bible says…!"  (Why should I believe in the authority of that book?)  And in the worst cases, if people seem not to care, instead of being more thoughtful we can sometimes become more forceful in our communication.  Well, who loves talking to a forceful communicator with an apparent agenda?  It can feel assaulting or even violating.  That’s not the way of the gospel, so certainly not a good means to communicate it.

Looking at Acts 17, we find wisdom in how the first believers handled this challenge of communicating Jesus.

While in Thessalonica, Paul’s proclamation of Jesus was wrapped up – not in something his Jewish hearers weren’t thinking about – but in a relevant question they were wrestling with in regards to their expected Messiah.  By working with them through the questions they were actually asking, he found common ground to communicate Jesus. And some came to believe in Jesus.

When Paul arrives at Athens, the scene gets a whole lot more complicated and interesting.  As usual, he first went to the synagogue.  But Paul also went out into the market place where he meets some Greeks who were Epicurean and Stoic philosophers – people who were very different in thought, word, and deed, not only from Paul but even from each other.

So - how does a Jewish Christian like Paul relate to these pagan Greek philosophers who have radically different thoughts, histories, and beliefs?  In a sense it would be easier to speak with Jews, because as a Jew himself he was on more familiar ground.  And of course Jesus was the Jewish Messiah fulfilling Jewish prophetic hope.  Jesus was the answer to a Jewish question.  But now the playing field is completely different.  Different worldviews.  Different hopes.  Different questions.

What we see happen is what Paul himself articulates in 1 Corinthians 9:

“To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.  I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.”  (1 Corinthians 9:20-23)

To these pagan Greek philosophers, Paul becomes as a Greek.  In doing so, he never compromises his faith or integrity.  Rather he is modeling that instead of expecting other people to enter our headspace, we need to enter theirs so that we can communicate.  What is their view of “god”, of the world, of humanity?  What is their religion, politic, driving social value(s)?  What are their hopes, dreams, and values that drive them?  What are their questions, struggles, and future vision?

Paul doesn’t go off on a Hebrew discourse expounding a bunch of Hebrew Scriptures (that would have been quite unknown at the Greek Areopagus).  Rather, he delivers a Hellenistic (Greek) speech, quoting familiar Greek poets.  His speech is full of allusions to the Epicurean and Stoic beliefs as points of contact addressing their worldview and concerns in familiar terms.  Yet at the same time he never concedes or surrenders to their beliefs.  While never quoting scripture, he maintains to keep his whole argument firmly based on Biblical revelation.  On every common contact point of belief and concern with the Greeks, Paul turns the everything right-side-up with the truth of the Gospel.

We as believers and theologians (God-thinkers) of all kinds - we all have the incredible opportunity to communicate the best message ever told about the most amazing person alive - Jesus.  May we have the wisdom and sensitivity to communicate Jesus in a way that connects and is understood.

Monday, September 16, 2013

getting into politics

Image from customflagart.com
I live in Quebec. In the past week, our provincial government has proposed that we adopt what they call the Quebec Charter of Values which, in part, restricts public employees from wearing prominent religious symbols such as crosses, hijabs, veils, turbans, or yarmulkes. This effort to render our public space more secular, free of religious influence, has caused quite a stir. Most people I know are disappointed, outraged, or embarrassed by this proposal. The Charter of Values seems to say the exact opposite of everything I as a citizen of Quebec want to communicate: that we are a province that seeks to be inclusive, invitational, and respectful of people's differences. So what do we do about this proposed charter? I have colleagues in the university who are now wearing their religious gear more proudly and more openly than ever before. Others are writing to their members of parliament. Thousands of people walked through the streets of Montreal on Saturday in protest of the proposed charter. Of course, there are also those who agree with its restrictions and see it as a step towards uniformity and peaceful existence.

A question that arises in situations like this is "How involved should we, as Christians, be in the political arena?" I am fairly apolitical, meaning I don't align myself with any particular party or position. In addition, I have to confess that I have little faith in any political system to bring about true, positive change in our world. Any positive change I have ever been witness to has not been accomplished through enforced legislation, but through people creatively acting out of love, kindness, and wisdom. However, this past week my position on politics changed somewhat. I have been reading the thoughts of 20th century political theorist Hannah Arendt. She was a German Jew born in 1906 who lived through World War II, barely escaping her country before "all hell broke loose." Her definition of politics is refreshing; for Arendt, politics is simply human beings acting in the public realm, working together, sharing a love of the world. Arendt sees action as risk, courage, rising to the occasion, and this action includes discourse and dialogue between people; action is based in community.

The two actions which Arendt sees as being exemplary in the public realm, in life together, are forgiveness and promise. Yes, this is what a Jewish, non-religious, female political theorist who lived through World War II believes are the most powerful actions we can bring to the public forum. Inspired by the words of Jesus, Arendt holds that forgiveness is a type of relationship which reflects our plurality, our commitment to one another and to our world. To clarify, she says that one does not forgive an act, but a person. And by forgiving a person, a community is able to move forward, to have a new beginning instead of being stuck in its history. Though she never lived to see it implemented, this principle was instrumental in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission set up by Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu.  This commission provided South Africa with a peaceful way forward after apartheid. Since then, the TRC model has been used in over 25 countries to deal with wrongs committed by governments or prominent people.

While forgiveness is meant to bring release and facilitate transformation, the second action Arendt names, promise, is meant to provide respite, what she calls "islands of certainty in an ocean of uncertainty." Promise is about having faith in others and hoping for positive outcomes. It means that telling the truth becomes highly valued and how we treat others becomes primary. As a result, maintaining a certain image (that we are the most powerful nation in the world or have a distinct identity) becomes irrelevant; we begin to value honesty and faithfulness more than a position of power. There is no place for political spin (deception) in the realm of promise because truth and trustworthiness are held in highest regard. Thoughtful, collective discernment (which includes seeing the world from another's perspective) replaces cold calculation in decision-making. What is at stake is relationship, not reputation or GNP.

Arendt gives me hope for political process because even in one of the darkest times in recent history, she was able to see how public life, living together, could be done well. While a reporter for the trial of Adolf Eichmann (one of the organizers of the Holocaust), she came to the realization that these horrible crimes had not been committed by people who were evil down to the core. Sitting at the front of the courtroom was a man who was quite ordinary, who was good at following orders, who worked hard, and thought he was a good citizen. What he did not do was stop and think, stop and exercise judgment, stop and see things from another perspective, stop and question what was happening around him.  He took no risk, exhibited no courage, and did not act out of love for the world.  He was more committed to an image, an ideal, to personal and political power than to the people of the world.

So what does this mean for those of us in tricky political situations here and now? How do we as Christians and leaders engage in the public realm?  I believe Arendt provides us with three principles to guide our way:

1. Act.  While prayerfulness, thoughtfulness, contemplation, reading, research, discussion (sermons), and debate all have their place, they are no substitute for courageous action. In fact, all these things are best seen as preliminaries used to discern proper and wise courses of action. Action implies that we engage with people, put ourselves out there, and become a visible part of the community. Action does not equate with confrontation, forcefulness, condemnation, or violence. Action simply means that we are not silent, passive, or hidden. We actively show our love for our world.

2. Get face to face. There is a tendency for us to be passive-aggressive when it comes to public figures and politicians (or even anyone we disagree with) regarding issues. We judge them, criticize them in a manner that gives no chance for response, and show our hostility indirectly. One of the main strengths of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission model is that it puts people face to face; it gives them a chance to listen, to have a dialogue, to be changed by the other. There is no substitute for direct contact with others, whether in our community or with our leaders. Dean has started something called "Dinners with Dean." Every other week he invites a few people over so that we can talk face to face and get to know each other. This is not just hanging out with friends, but with people that we don't know very well. Wouldn't it be great if we could all invite our public officials over for dinner and show them some hospitality? While that may not be feasible, we can get face to face with our neighbours, our colleagues, and those we often isolate and judge. We can change the dynamic.

3. Cultivate faith and hope. This is not easy in the realm of politics, but it is not impossible. We can do our part to change things by exemplifying all those qualities we want to see in our leaders and in all aspects of the government. The next time you are on the phone with a government employee or standing in line for a service, embody patience, kindness, self-control, mercy, and faithfulness. Listen more than you speak, ask instead of demand, be observant and respectful to the person you are dealing with. This takes courage, but it is a way of inserting promises where they have been broken, a way of showing thoughtfulness and consistency where these have been neglected.  It is a way of bringing faith, hope, and love for our world back into public places.

While I wholeheartedly support the right to wear crosses and crucifixes in public, perhaps putting on the character of Jesus is a more effective way to bear witness to our faith. And no one can take that away from us.

Matte from Montreal

References: Why Arendt Matters by Elisabeth Young-Breuhl, The Human Condition by Hannah Arendt.

Monday, September 9, 2013

little children

Parents and wee goslings in Stratford, ON
Let me start by confessing that I do not always love people very well, so in my continuing journey to learn how to be a better lover, I invited our faith community to study 1 John together with me. Who better to learn from than the disciple of love, the writer who penned "God is love?" I thought taking a close look at 1 John would be a great way to immerse myself and our faith community in the aspects of love. Well, in the first two chapters of 1 John there has been little said about love. Like I mentioned in a post I recently wrote about the frequent impropriety of our questions (a funeral and a wedding), I find that often I come to a subject (like suffering or love) with quite a closed mind.  I have already decided what things I would like to learn, what questions are important, roughly what the answers should look like, and am already looking forward to how much better equipped this will make me when discussing the topic. That's a pretty limited approach, I know.

One of the reasons I love reading the Bible and studying theology is because I always encounter a lot of surprises. Here is what struck me most about the second chapter of 1 John: his modes of address. He uses little children five times.  He also calls the recipients of his letter parents (fathers) two times and young people (young men) twice. It seems fairly obvious that he is not addressing different age groups, but reminding his dear friends about different aspects of their relationship to God, the eternal one. Here is what I believe these terms of endearment are saying.

1. "Little ones" speaks about belonging: Children belong in a family simply by being born, and this is the same for our status with God.  Forgiveness through Christ Jesus means that we belong.  As little children we know our heavenly Father, not because we have studied long and hard or have a lifetime of experience to reference, but because we are his children. We recognize him because he is our Father.

2. "Parents" refers to responsibility:  John's comment to parents is the exact same both times: "You have known the one who existed from the beginning."  I see two main aspects that John is calling people to: to remember what they have learned from seeing, touching, hearing, and experiencing Jesus and to pass on these stories to the younger ones.

3. "Young people" speaks of action: The writer speaks here with reference to their strength, their ability to overcome evil, and their commitment to carry the word of God within them. The focus here is on action, on transforming their environment because they have been transformed themselves.

My incredibly clever husband observed that this pattern is remarkably similar to the Vineyard values of belong-believe-behave where we as faith communities first create an atmosphere where people belong, then out of this place of safety people begin to embrace the values of Jesus, and finally, their actions start to reflect a transformation.  Good point, Dean!

What is the important point for me here (reflected by the author's 5-time repetition) is that we never lose our identity as little children.  We must never forget that we belong. All knowledge of God, all righteousness, all wisdom, all truth, all overcoming of evil, and all confidence stem from this belonging. We are little children. This is not a term hinting at immaturity; it is one of the most meaningful and precious things a Father can say to his beloved.

Matte, the little child, from Montreal

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Christian Unity

I'm working on a research project creating an online archive of Anglican - Roman Catholic ecumenical work. I find ecumenical work fascinating, the goal of greater unity and building cooperative relationships between traditions is close to my heart as a person who likes to build relational bridges. Working on this project makes me think of my own tradition and evangelical identity. It is often a tricky thing working through relationships between traditions. I wonder sometimes if within the evangelical tradition our goals have become skewed, as we seem to think that unity means uniformity. A great book on this subject is Gerald McDermott's Can Evangelicals Learn from World Religions?. What McDermott presents is key to Christians engaging with other traditions even within the family of Christianity. In true evangelical form he insists that when we engage in such conversations we bring our whole selves to those conversations. This is contrary to some ecumenical thinking that says we lay down our distinctives for the conversation. McDermott, instead, wants us to lay down our need to defend our distinctives by seeing what is distinctive about ourselves as a valuable and unique contribution to the conversation. And that in conversation we are mutually enriched and challenged. I often direct new students to this book as it is a much better way to navigate academic life as a person of faith.

The key here is how we understand boldness. In evangelical culture we've often associated boldness with the assertion of our distinct views. But boldness really has more to do with our confidence in our own views and the willingness to hear and learn from other people. Hence McDermott's central question - can we, as evangelicals, learn from world religions? His answer is yes. But it requires us to enter into conversation. A conversation requires contributions from both sides - and the evangelical in me rejoices at that prospect.

So how do you express boldness? How do you interact even with Christians of other traditions? Not all of us are in ecumenical environments, but I bet all of us have people around us we can engage with. In writing this I was thinking of a few stories of some great conversations I have had recently. In particular one with my muslim neighbour about how we instill moral values in our children and what help/hindrances come from our religious traditions. But I'd love to hear your stories, your encounters.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Falling is Easy...

OK, so it is Wednesday.

Falling is Easy, Walking is HardI was delighted earlier this week to get an email from my dear friend Colin Benner. I met Colin maybe a year or so before he and Denise came to pastor a church that had been adopted into the Vineyard but was in a messy situation. Colin and Denise are some of the wisest leaders I've ever met, and it was amazing to watch them bring that church to a place where they could healthily close their doors. I know that sounds odd, but they started with a real mess. When they left, they left behind healthy people who were at a place where they could choose how best to honour God. The Benner's are no strangers to tough church situations and now to tough life situations. Many of you who know Colin will also know that he's been battling cancer for the last while even while they pastor a church in Thailand.

Now I do get the odd email from Colin, telling me how he's doing and asking for prayer, but this one was telling me about the book he just finished: Falling is Easy, Walking is Hard. I managed to get an advance copy today and have had a bit of time to leaf through it (virtually as it is a kindle book). I love that I hear Colin's voice in the pages and can't wait to have time to dig right in.

I want to encourage you to pick it up. I'll do a proper review when I've had a chance to read it. But I have not problem recommending it right now.

Have a great week!

Frank Emanuel, Ontario Region.

Monday, August 12, 2013


Monday is quickly escaping me. I have been neck deep in renovations for the last six weeks, yikes. But I did sign up for posting this week so fear not I will. Just I have to wait until Wednesday because I am going to be blogging about a book a dear friend of mine just told me he published. The teaser is that we've featured his blog here before and I know the book will be profound. In fact I'd like to highlight a few books that have come out of our movement in Canada. I'm thinking of Tim Davidson's Passport, Gary Best's Naturally Supernatural (which we use as a textbook in the ThoughtWork's curriculum), Peter Fitch's Learning to Interpret Toward Love and the book I'll talk about Wednesday. I'm sure there are others. If you know of a helpful book written by one of our Vineyard family let us know. If you want to write a review of a book from our family let us know that as well. One of the most profound resources these books provide is in conveying the journeys of our people as they minister and reflect on their years of ministry. 

Talk to you all Wednesday. 

Frank Emanuel, Ontario Region

Monday, August 5, 2013

writing a letter

Let's say a group of your friends are fighting over some controversy (could happen, right?).  Or someone you know is going off in a weird direction that is sure to end badly.  Let's say some people in your family are confused about the issues facing society (and the church) today.  Or some of the people you have known for a long time are drifting away from their faith.  What do you do?  What kind of letter do you write to them?  Do you 1) give them a straightforward talk that starts something like this: "What is wrong with you?"  Or 2) gently love them through the chaos, careful not to say anything that might upset them or exacerbate their situation?  Or do you 3) tackle the issues head-on, providing reasoned and biblical answers to back up your points? 

My guess is I would fall mostly in category 2, insisting that love is the first and last word, with a dash of category 3 thrown in just to give them something to think about. And this is what I expected from the writer of 1 John who is sending a letter to a group of Christians who are torn apart by controversy and entertaining false teachings, no doubt confused yet still hot-headed and stubborn in their dealings with each other.  The writer does not start with a call to love.  He does not start by correcting their wrong ideas.  He does not start by addressing the issues at hand.  He starts by going back to the beginning, and the beginning is Jesus.  He starts by getting back to the basics, the basics of encountering Jesus - of seeing, hearing, and touching him - because this is where everything first changed for all of them.  And it remains the only place where transformation is possible. 

He reminds them that God is light and remaining in this light is the only way to find truth, fellowship, purification, forgiveness, and loving acceptance.  Straying away from this light leaves one stumbling around in the dark, blind, angry, and even self-righteous.  He talks about the necessity of confession, obedience, and integrity.  He points out how badly they are treating each other.  He talks about living the way Jesus lived.  Throughout, he uses the inclusive pronoun “we,” essentially placing himself in the middle of their chaos instead of in the privileged place of an expert or unbiased observer.

I have much to learn from the writer of 1 John in how to communicate with other Christians on controversial topics.  I must learn not to start with the issues but with Jesus.  I must learn not to draw attention to my credentials or education as a way to impress or convince others. In fact, the writer of 1 John skips the customary introduction (where he would identify himself and his position) and jumps right into announcing God’s revelation through Jesus.  I must learn to place myself in the shoes of others, talking about “we” instead of adopting an “us and them” posture.  I must learn to call people back to encounter with Jesus instead of just trying to set their theology straight.  I must learn, with directness and clarity, how to announce the living Word of the Father that has been revealed to us.  I must learn to speak truth without apology, yet never without compassion and understanding.  And I must learn that I cannot call others to the light unless I make my home in the light.

GOD IS LIGHT and no shadow of darkness can exist in him. Consequently, if we were to say that we enjoyed fellowship with him and still went on living in darkness, we should be both telling and living a lie. But if we really are living in the same light in which he eternally exists, then we have true fellowship with each other, and the blood which his Son shed for us keeps us clean from all sin. If we refuse to admit that we are sinners, then we live in a world of illusion and truth becomes a stranger to us. But if we freely admit that we have sinned, we find God utterly reliable and straightforward—he forgives our sins and makes us thoroughly clean from all that is evil. For if we take up the attitude “we have not sinned”, we flatly deny God’s diagnosis of our condition and cut ourselves off from what he has to say to us.  (from 1 John 1, trans. J.B. Phillips)

Matte from Montreal

Monday, July 22, 2013

A Pile of Stones

1 When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the LORD said to Joshua, 2 "Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, 3 and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan from right where the priests stood and to carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight." Shortly after being delivered from slavery in Egypt the children of Israel found themselves wandering in the barren sands of the Sinai desert.

4 So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelite s, one from each tribe, 5 and said to them, "Go over before the ark of the LORD your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelite s, 6 to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, 'What do these stones mean?' 7 tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever."

8 So the Israelite did as Joshua commanded them. They took twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelite s, as the LORD had told Joshua; and they carried them over with them to their camp, where they put them down. 9 Joshua set up the twelve stones that had been [a] in the middle of the Jordan at the spot where the priests who carried the ark of the covenant had stood. And they are there to this day. Joshua 4:1-9

Shortly after being delivered from slavery in Egypt the children of Israel found themselves in trouble the primary cause: a short collective memory. They quickly forgot God's goodness and provision and began to murmur and complain. This lead to all sorts of trouble.

Ever find yourself complaining. Don't know about you but I can often find it really easy to forget God's kindness in my life. When the proverbial crap hits the fan and we find ourselves in the heat of life's battles it's easy to lose sight of God's goodness. We quickly forget the time's He's lavished His kindness on us, opening windows of promise, provision and protection .

Over the years, "Tell me about the goodness of God", is a request i have found my self making fairly often to my wife... I can have a very short memory. If you ever find  you have a short memory  building a pile of stones might be a great way to be reminded of God’s goodness..

One day back in the mid-eighties during a difficult season (my mother had just passed away) while reading Joshua, we had an epiphany why don't we make a pile of stones and establish a monument of remembrance like the children of Israel were told to do. We made a list of miracles, promises, answered prayer, words, tokens (more about that another time) and obvious kindness’ of God, so in times of trial and darkness or a tell me the stories moment we would have something tangible, a memorial to God's faithfulness, so to speak as a  constant reminder. Not unlike the purpose of the stones in the Jordon.

So we drew a pile of stones on a piece of full-scap and wrote on the individual stones. God promised this. He provided that. The Lord healed so and so. We have added a sheet or two over the years and still occasionally pull the tattered pages out to refresh our memories.

Eventually we made a real pile of stones in our back yard and had a gathering where we placed stones of remembrance  From time to time we place new stones if something warrants it.

We've even had friends come over and place stones to mark monumental times in their lives. Some have simply given us a stone and asked us to place it for them. Each time we see that pile in our back yard not only are we reminded of God's goodness in our lives but that of our friends as well.

Building a pile of stones of remembrance ( it could be anything that causes you to remember)) whether physical, on paper or in your heart, can be a wonderful exercise in nurturing a deeper awareness of the presence of God in your life, but like all spiritual practice it's simply a tool. "Our goal is God not joy nor bliss not even blessing. But God Himself. T'is His to get me there not mine but His."

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Vineyard School of Justice (Oct 2013-April 2014)


What if you could be part of a school which equipped you with the knowledge, skills, and character to live a life of love and worship, and gave you the opportunity to learn these things sitting side by side with those who are marginalized? 

The Vineyard School of Justice is a unique seven month program run by the Winnipeg Centre Vineyard and held at our premises in Winnipeg’s North End (one of Canada’s most impoverished neighbourhoods). The school is designed to foster a passion for following Jesus as he leads us outwards by creating an environment where we learn together and build relationship with those on the margins, all the while living as neighbours in the same neighbourhood.

The school will feature teaching and discussion (on topics such as: God’s Heart for Justice; the Person, Power, and Gifts of the Holy Spirit; Addictions and Life on the Streets; Gangs, Prostitution, and Mental Health Issues; Healing and the Kingdom of God; Aboriginal studies; A Theology of Nonviolence and Studies in Conflict Resolution; Mercy and Compassion; Justice and the Arts etc.), hands-on justice and ministry activities as well as practical volunteer opportunities in the neighbourhood, worship and prayer ministry, and personal mentoring and discipleship. We will also travel to Nepal to learn from our sister Vineyard churches in the Himalayan Region who do ministry with some of the most marginalized people in Nepal.

Follow Jesus. Be in the margins. Apply today!

Suhail Stephen, Vineyard School of Justice