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Our Blog
March 18, 2020 | Chris De Vos

(Gather)-Practice-Witness

What an odd time it is for churches. Our routine practices have been suspended, while our suspicions, anxiety, paranoia, and fear reach unprecedented proportions. As vanguard tulips poke their courageous leaves through the Michigan winter soil, an insidious coronavirus threatens our ability to gather, a central Christian practice at The Colossian Forum. We may not be able to gather for our daily 9 a.m. prayer practice in person, but as you can see in this picture, we did our best this morning and will continue to pray together via video chat!

The interruption in our routines – our rituals – is unsettling. Even though the tulips will still blossom in their time, it feels like nature itself has been disrupted – families postponing spring break trips, St. Patrick’s Day socially distanced, and even Easter worship services up in the air! Widespread uncertainty and decisions about the best response to the crisis are causing tension in many circles. It is easy to become overwhelmed in these tumultuous times.

But this is also a witnessing time—a time to show who we are as Christians and what we are made of. At The Colossian Forum, we are fond of saying “conflict is an opportunity for spiritual growth and witness.” Through The Colossian Way small groups, we help Christians prepare for conflicts and difficult, anxious times, and we work and witness in the midst of these conflicts by remembering who we are in Christ. We practice loving one another and God as we lean into whatever challenge we face together.

After all, conflicts arise from collisions between our fears and loves. Our fears disrupt, distract, confuse, and subvert our attempts to love God and one another. That’s what makes the faithful commitment to love—along with Christian practices like continued prayer and worship—so difficult. Fear is loud, it comes naturally, it demands our attention, and it will dictate our actions if we let it.

The Colossian Way aims at three goals: gather Christians together, practice loving God and one another while engaging a difficult challenge, and witness the body of Christ built up. In this particular moment, we may have to innovate on the “gather” piece—as Christians have for centuries before us under other forms of separation. But we can still practice and witness.

Practicing love for God and one another while engaging this pandemic challenge illuminates places where we can exercise all of our Christian muscles. Phone calls to those who are shut-in, food deliveries, and school lunch program and financial donations all seem like low-hanging spiritual fruit for us. And social isolation gives us a wonderful opportunity to continue personal practices that foster spiritual growth and equip us to embody the hope and light that so many need right now.

Discipleship is about living faithful lives right in the middle of all those fears, even the most daunting ones. That’s where the cross stands—in the middle of crushing fears. We are, after all, followers of Jesus, and we are infused with his very character. We are called to the way of the cross—to a life of faithful love amid fear.

Perhaps the coronavirus threat happening during Lent is fortuitous. It gives us the opportunity to practice living the way Jesus did, not despite our conflicts, but thanks to them. This is precisely the best time to follow him into this “passionate” moment, in which a worldwide disease is threatening to sicken and kill many and drive us apart in the process. For in this odd time of pandemic worry, Holy Week has not been canceled! We can still move through the acclamation of Palm/Passion Sunday to the acrimony of Good Friday, and in so moving, confess how easy it is to fall asleep, away, and into denial in the face of powerful forces that threaten our lives.

Let us leave you with a challenge. At the end of every Colossian Way session, we offer to one another and to God words of praise, lament, and hope. Realizing that every gathering is incomplete until we’re in the Kingdom of God, we lift up any words of praise for what we see in ourselves and the world, words of lament for what is wrong or missing, and words of hope for God to bring renewal. As you go about these days, we invite you to join us and offer your own words of praise, lament, and hope. Please email them to me at cdevos@colossianforum.org, or share them on social media using #TCFpraise, #TCFlament, or #TCFhope.

And let us remember that Jesus is faithful, that God raised him from the dead, and that we are witnesses of these things by the Holy Spirit’s power. This may be an odd time for us and presents a challenge to who we know we are (Christ’s) and what we have to offer a world consumed by tension, fear, and worry. It is also a shining moment for us to model a faithful pathway through this moment and to live into the words of Hebrews 12:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.

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Suggested Posts
Politics in the Cities of God and Man - A Guide to Dual Citizenship
March 2, 2020 | Michael Gulker
Politics in the Cities of God and Man - A Guide to Dual Citizenship
Mike is a pastor. The church he’s served for over 16 years sits downtown, a traditional steeple among the skyscrapers. Recently, Mike told us he’s seen a change in his congregation. “During my time as a pastor, my prayers haven’t changed,” he said. “However, recently, I’ve been getting people suggesting that those prayers have become political.” So what makes a prayer political? Aren’t we called to pray for our world, our leaders, our communities, and God’s will on earth? Is a political prayer a bad thing? Navigating the intersection of faith and politics has become increasingly difficult. We claim we don’t want to hear politics from the pulpit while professing that our faith should apply to every area of our life. In reality, we often allow our politics to overrule our faith. All too eager to capitalize on this, pundits on the right and left work to shape our desire (their business model depends upon it). They tell us how to vote, how to act. We get caught up in the political dramas that surround us, allowing FOX or CNN to guide our thinking, make or break our relationships, and dictate whether we should be hopeful or afraid as we look to the future. The Church is not immune, often dividing along these same fault lines. People who believe the same Gospel come to bitterly opposed conclusions on how to live it out. Christians on both sides can be quick to answer, “Well, what they are doing isn’t the Gospel.” But what we often mean is that what they are doing opposes our political ideology – even though it might be dressed up in theological drag. We’re hardly the first Christians to encounter these conflicts. In the fifth century, in his book City of God, Augustine wrestled with the conflict between human and Kingdom politics—alternate ways of being in the world, represented by what he calls the “City of Man” and the “City of God.” His central insight is that these two cities share one geographic space, like two dramas playing out on the same stage, each competing for our attention and allegiance. And each works to win us over by shaping our desires and directing our practices. Today, the ideologies of right and left together make up the City of Man, which offers us the same formative practices – constant media consumption, increasingly polarized thought and rhetoric, the endless fortification of our echo chambers, and the dehumanization of those we fear on the other side. You know what this is like. Haven’t you noticed that once you start watching the news or scrolling through social media, you have an increased appetite for it? Soon, in the City of Man, all we can see around us is conflict and threat, our most cherished loves besieged by the terrifying other. Augustine is clear; there is no room for compromise between the two cities. Instead, The City of God offers more than we imagined—more grace, truth, life, and hope. This is because the City of God is more real than the City of Man, which is passing away, inevitably headed toward destruction as it devours itself.  We are called, not to a life somewhere between, but of one beyond right and left – in a future that is becoming present through our obedience to our King. We are called to make the City of God visible amidst of the City of Man. The Good News of the Gospel shows us how. Jesus calls us to practices for occupying that shared space and for living out the story of God as an alternative to what we find in the endless cycle of bad news. These practices can and will reshape our loves to desire the City of God. For example, Augustine sought to correct his malformed desires by practicing new ways of using his free time. He stopped going to the coliseum because the games trained his desire to love death instead of life. We can make similar, intentional moves. What is our modern-day coliseum? Where are our desires being malformed? To answer that, we should start with basic Christian practices that Jesus gave us. Things like the practice of worship—prayer, singing, spending time alone with our Father, listening for his voice, and perhaps meditating on scripture at least twice as long as we meditate on our newsfeeds. What else can we do? Our new Colossian Way curriculum, Political Talk, is designed to be a starting point—a guide for this dual citizenship, if you will. Will you join us? Learn more and order resources at colossianforum.org/PoliticalTalk.
Praying with the City in View
December 31, 2019 | Emily Stroble
Praying with the City in View
I’ve never experienced peace as acutely than when I visited the tiny town of Assisi, Italy three years ago. The path that winds across the steep hillside behind the city takes hikers through olive groves, which give way to brush and cypress trees that frame a honeycomb of caves. In mid-January, early in the morning, even the light seemed to move gently. I was happy to be outside and excited to be traveling, and I smiled to myself as I made my way up the slope. I found it funny that I should be walking through olive branches in a little forest of peace when, in the village below, I could hardly order coffee in my American accent without receiving quips and comments about the recent 2016 U.S. presidential election. The monastery above Assisi has a remarkable story. Monks still live and worship there, and they always have, despite the rise and fall of the empires, kings, and dictators. The monks come from all over to live in this little cluster of low-ceilinged cells and chapels. As I walked up the hill toward the monastery with my tour group, the monastic life seemed an appealing path. How rich to walk up a mountain to sit in the presence of God and never go back to the noise and confusion of politics and the rest of civil life. As we arrived, a tall monk greeted us warmly. He motioned us out of the wind. He was shyly apologetic for his English, which was clear as a bell against the wind. He spoke softly, telling us the history of the monastery. I don’t remember whether someone asked him about the monastic life or if he was reacting to the curiosity in our faces. He said something to the effect of, “People seem confused about monks. We live apart from the city, it’s true. We devote our time to prayer. But we are not completely severed from the world. We are not ignorant of what is going on. We care deeply for our city. We chose this place to pray here for the city.” He straightened his hunched shoulders and swept a long arm across the valley with its steeples, farms, and domed basilicas. “We live apart from the city to pray with the city in view,” he said. That sentence has echoed in my head ever since. As we all can, I’ve grappled for years with the command to be “in the world and not of it.” And, in the political tension that’s defined the last few years, my uncertainty around what faith calls me to do politically has needled me more urgently. Yet, in all my wrestling, arguing, doubt, and looking for the petition I could sign or the party I could join that would align me with “Christian Politics,” it never occurred to me to pray for anything other than my preferred outcome in an election or vote. I think praying with the city in view is something different from praying for the city. First, when you are apart from the city but keep it in view, it’s easier to remember to which kingdom you belong, and you can care for the city in its proper place as a part of God’s kingdom. When you are in the city, the dramas and concerns of the human world fill your whole field of vision. When we stand apart from the city, we gain some perspective, and our desires align more closely to a sincere prayer of “on earth as it is in Heaven.” Second, the practice of prayer, rather than the desired outcome, becomes our path to closer relationship with God. Rather than getting to God through praying about politics, we become people primarily of prayer who are better formed to face political conflicts. What place should intercession have in our politics? It is a beautiful act of Christ-imitation. And if monastic prayer can inform politics, what other practices might hold us together as we wade through the muck of our most divisive issues, like immigration, recreational marijuana, and who should lead? These are some of the questions we begin with in The Colossian Forum’s Political Talk curriculum, launching in early February. You can visit colossianforum.org/politicaltalk for more information and to pre-order your copy. As we head into a year when politicians and parties will be competing vigorously for our allegiance, and political conversations have the potential to escalate and drive wedges between even longtime friends and close family, I humbly invite you to consider a set-apart posture like the one I learned in Assisi. In 2020, may you pray with the city in view and find hope in the opportunity for reconciliation that our conflicts – no matter their context – offer us.

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