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)