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

Monday, July 15, 2013

Mystery of the Mundane Part 2

Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries,
And daub their natural faces unaware.

                                    Elizabeth Barret Browning

Mundane = common place

God is found in the common places. He walked in the cool of the day. He was found in the still small voice. He rides on the wings of the wind. His glory is etched in the drifting clouds above. Present in the fragrance of a flower. Jesus lived in the ordinary world, ate ordinary food, walked among ordinary people, miracles were performed in common place in ordinary moments, at a wedding, on a hillsides, along dusty roads in the parching heat of the day.

The mundane moments of daily life are ripe with His presence, doing the dishes, driving to work, nursing the baby, waiting on tables, walking in the woods. The Celtic culture nurtured and facilitated a sacramental approach to life. Not only recognizing but expecting God's presence in the ordinary routine rhythm of the day.

The Celt's recognized and celebrated the sacred in the common place. They anticipated and invited the presence into everyday activities such as setting the fireplace, milking the cow, churning the butter, ploughing the fields.

"I AM smooring the fire As the Son of Mary would smoor Blest be the house, blest be the fire, Blest be the people all." (a blessing for preparing the night hearth)

"The guarding of God and the Lord be yours... Traveling mead’s long and grassy...Be the bright Michael king of the angels Protecting, and keeping, and saving you." ( a portion herders prayer)

The Irish Church of the Fifth Century was full of LIFE. One of her founders, Patrick and those that came after him carried the Gospel to all four corners of the “Emerald Isle,” and beyond. As one writer describes them, “There was a passion for foreign missions in the impetuous eagerness of the Irish believers, a zeal not common in their day. Burning with love for Christ (and their neighbor) , fearing no peril, shunning no hardship, they went everywhere with the Gospel” (Edman).

These Celtic missionary wanders became known as the Peregrini.

The Peregrini, (among their number Columba, Columbanus and Aidan) journeyed to the nearby northern islands, the Orkneys and Faroes. Then on to Scotland, England, the forests of Germany, the rugged hills of Gaul, the foothills of the Alps, the valleys of the Rhine and the Danube, and to the cities and remote valleys of Italy. Some went singly, as hermits, others, in small groups, often numbering up to 13, imitating Jesus and the Twelve. Their numbers multiplied so greatly that they became a characteristic feature of Western Europe through most of the period from 500 to 950

One of the things that set these "peregrini" apart from the traditional missions of  their time and ours was their approach. They went out not seeking to bring change but to be changed. They were convinced that as they went they would be transformed into the image of the man that went about everywhere doing good and that this transforming work in them would be the catalyst for transformation in others. This caused them to embrace the ordinary, to welcome difficulties to perceive all daily activity as holy and  to not only look for but to make space for God's presence in the mundane and common place.

As we recognize and acknowledge the presence in our mundane daily activities, we then begin to take off our shoes before every common bush, a fire with God. All activities become sacred and sacramental, all ground holy. Every moment has the potential to become pregnant with possibility and a live with wonder and the simplest common activities can then become "spiritual practice'.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Mystery of the Mundane Part 1

11And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: 12And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. 13And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah? 1Kings 19:11-13

Between keeping ourselves distracted and waiting we miss a lot in life. Waiting for when I grow up. Waiting to get that job. Waiting to find that special person. Waiting to retire . Waiting to that buy new whatever. We live in anticipation of some future fulfillment.

In my faith journey i had observed in  my self and others particularly in 'spirit filled' circles much of life being projected into the future and taken up with  passing time, waiting for something to happen. Waiting for the fire to fall Waiting for that revival to break out. Waiting for that miracle. Waiting for the next move of God. We anxiously await the big thing to unfold in our lives, passing time till we die and "go to heaven."

Most of the “big moments” in our lives tend to take place in the ordinariness of daily life. God is to be found in the ordinary and mundane. We are often so busy we can’t see the forest for the trees. We miss the miracles unfolding before our eyes. We miss God’s immediate presence in the wonder of the ordinary.

Song writer Nick Cave captures this thought so beautifully in these lyrics from his song “Get Ready for Love”

Nothing much really happens
And God rides high in his ordinary sky
Until we find ourselves at our most distracted
And the miracle that was promised
Creeps silently by.       
I remember when it really hit me. God is present in the now, my life is unfolding now. The miracle is in this present mundane moment.

God never promised to answer every question or be an easy access rabbits foot. What he has promised however, is that He would never leave us or forsake us. That he would be present with us at every moment, in all our joy and sorrow, in our waking in our sleeping, in our work and in our play.

What if we were to attempt to be conscious of God's presence in the ordinary now, in  daily situations?  How would this transform our thoughts, our actions, our encounters with others?

Buddhists refer to this being present in each moment, each breath as mindfulness. For followers of Christ this can be understood  as practicing the presence of  God.

A 17th century Carmelite monk, Brother Lawrence considered "the practice of the presence of God' to be at the center of authentic Christian spirituality. He learned the discipline of being constantly aware of Gods presence especially in the ordinary and mundane during his forty years of doing dishes and daily tasks for his monastic community.

He wrote, "There is not in the world, a kind of life more sweet and delightful, than that of a continual conversation with God. Those only can comprehend it who practice and experience it."

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. [Psalm 139:7-12]

Embracing the ordinary and cultivating the practice of becoming aware of Gods presence in the mundane moments and responding,  could also be framed as life in the Spirit.

I remember in my early years as a follower of Christ one of my big questions was "how does one walk in the spirit". I used to ask that of every Christian i meet.. It often got me into trouble. One day while reading The Pursuit of God by A. W Tozer. I came across this simple passage; "The universal presence of God is a fact. God is here.The whole universe is alive with his life...we have with in us the ability to know him if we will but respond to his overtures" and thus unfolds the mystery of the mundane.

Brad Culver  Ontario Region

Monday, July 1, 2013

Dealing with Difference - a Canadian Way

Happy Canada Day!

One of the things I love about this country is our value of diversity. This also a big reason why I love the Vineyard so much - we are a diverse group of people pursuing God passionately. It seems so Canadian to me.

However, despite our love of diversity, diversity is also one of our biggest challenges. Just think about the recent problems with soccer loving Sikhs in Quebec. These are tough issues to navigate - yet navigate with must.

So here is a question I've been pondering: When you go to a church do you expect everyone to believe the same way you do? I'm not talking about the big things - like the Lordship of Jesus, the welcome of the Holy Spirit, etc. But the ancillary things like who can lead what part of the service, whether or not we believe in predestination or even a rapture. It is harder when the ancillary things seem to take on major importance for us.

For those of us who expect that there will be differences in these things then how do we navigate those differences?

In society we see that there is a fluidity to how differences are navigated. If we look at the history of the Church we can also see such fluidity. I want to suggest that this fluidity is part of what makes society work. In Canada we are not a melting pot, it is not that kind of fluidity that reduces everyone and everything to some sort of comfortable norm. Rather, we are like a stew. A stew is rich and full of interesting and healthy flavours (at least it can be at its best). And in a stew the broth brings everything together. It is where the tastes blend to make something richer - we are richer together or as some like to say in the Vineyard: it is better together.

I'm interested in what you think. I am aware of a number of issues that our differences are creating interesting conversations about. The question remains: How will we navigate our differences? My hope is that we will do it in the Canadian way. We will let the broth of our differences flavour our whole experience and let us better enjoy the fruits of being together no matter how insurmountable our differences might seem.

Have a great and safe Canada Day! Enjoy our country. Enjoy our Vineyard.

Frank Emanuel - Ontario Region