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Praise-Lament-Hope: Christian Practices for Quarantine
March 27, 2020 | Chris De Vos
Praise-Lament-Hope: Christian Practices for Quarantine
A Message from Chris De Vos, VP of Partnerships and Care Dear Friends, I’m writing this from my SIP (Sheltering in Place) Office in a spare bedroom on the second floor of our house. At this very moment, my wife is downstairs sewing fabric masks to be used in west Michigan hospitals. Her office (a dental practice) is shut down for at least the next two weeks, and she is restless, wanting to help. So, with the guidelines provided by our local hospitals, she is sewing up a storm and coordinating a group of others at our church who are also rooted in hope. I, too, am restless, wanting to help. Because I’ve been teaching and training people in The Colossian Way group process for a couple of years, several Colossian Way practices have been useful for me in this viral moment. Perhaps they have for you, too. For me, I’m aware of these: my own fears signaling what I love, a confirmation bias that could threaten wisdom, the importance of starting with clear goals to love one another and God while engaging the crisis, and the formative practice of integrating important moments by turning Godward with praise, lament, and hope. Those are a few of the practices I am using regularly. Maybe they can be of help to you. I wanted to share a few of my praises, laments, and hopes with you: I praise God for gestures of hope offered by those sewing masks, working in hospitals, delivering food to children and shut-ins, and especially for God’s steady creation rhythm of life - for the tree buds bearing witness in my front yard! I lament how impatient I can be while feeling “stuck at home” and how hard it is to be separated from my children and grandchildren. I lament for those deep in our Coronavirus ground zero of New York City (including the RCA pastors I know there). I hope for healing, not only from this pandemic, but from our neglect of what really matters. I long for the day when there will be no more disease and death, no war or hostility, when “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.” Feel free to return the gesture, either by emailing us at tcw@colossianforum.org or by posting yours on social media using #TCFPraise, #TCFLament, and #TCFHope. We’d love to hear from you. Our blessings to you and your families.
(Gather)-Practice-Witness
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.
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.
Lent and the Rhythm of Faith
February 26, 2020 | Emily Stroble
Lent and the Rhythm of Faith
Today, in celebration of Ash Wednesday, Christians around the world received a smudge of ash on their forehead in the shape of the cross as a sign of their repentance and redemption. This external representation of our salvation, however simple, feels comforting—grounding. Lent, the 40 days of repentance and preparation in the Church calendar that begin on Ash Wednesday and lead up to Easter, literally grounds us. A phrase you will likely hear in an Ash Wednesday service is, “dust you are, and to dust you will return.” The ash reminds us that we are sinful, mortal people living in a broken world. The cross reminds us that we are redeemed by the sacrifice of Jesus. Today, these beliefs are on display for everyone to see. Lent also reminds me that my faith should constantly be apparent in my life every day, shaping who I am and what I do. One of the best ways to continue that process of shaping is to practice ways of living out my faith. Of course, getting better at something—including getting better at living out my faith—requires practice. That’s why Christian practices are central to Lent and to The Colossian Way. My piano teacher used to say, “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice makes more of whatever you practice. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” She also told me to “build muscle memory.” It’s amazing; once you play a song many times, you don’t have to remember every single note. Your fingers just know what comes next. I rarely play anymore, but songs still come out of my fingers when I sit down at a keyboard. Their rhythms are part of me. Christian practices help build spiritual muscle memory. If a pianist practices a sonata, that is what their fingers will play in concert, even if they are nervous. If we practice grace or speaking the truth, that is what we will do, even under the pressure of conflict. Heather, a pastor who has led many Colossian Way groups, talks about how practice, particularly lament—which is part of every Colossian Way session—teaches us the rhythms of faith. Lament and Lent, Heather says, “help us voice our pain. Lament comes straight out of scripture, and it shows us the pattern of telling God about the brokenness in our world.” The rhythm of lament also gives us hope in the midst of sorrow because, as Heather puts it, “There is always an ‘and yet’ to a lament—‘And yet, God is with us.’ We know we won’t lament or be in Lent forever. We will get to Easter. And we will celebrate.” We believe that God hears our prayers, cares about our pain, is redeeming us and our world, and that “In Christ, all things hold together.” Practice gets those rhythms of faith and scriptural truths “into our bones,” as Heather says, and committed to muscle memory. We know Easter comes after Ash Wednesday, and that hope comes after lament, even when we feel hopeless, because we’ve practiced it. That’s how the song of the Gospel goes. These practices and rhythms of faith give us strength and guide our actions when we grow weary and uncertain. Lament gives us words for our pain. Repentance gives us peace from our guilt. The Colossian Way gives us paths through scripture for our conflicts. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul speaks of a “thorn in his flesh.” Scholars wonder if this is a sin Paul is repenting for, or if he is lamenting physical pain or another consequence of our broken world. In either case, God’s words to Paul have encouraged generations of Christians: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness.” God writes the signs of his perfect love in the dust of our lives. His strength shapes our habits and actions as he breaths his life into us. Over the next 40 days of Lent, we joyously invite you to explore practices of faith with us. We will share more stories like Heather’s and ideas for Lenten practices from our staff and members of our Colossian Way family. And if you have built spiritual muscle memory or discovered new rhythms of faith through the practices of The Colossian Way, whether in conversations with staff, workshops, leader training, or resources, we invite you to join us in raising $7,000 during the 40 days of Lent to cover the costs to train 40 Colossian Way Leaders. All donations will support costs registration fees don’t cover—costs like hospitality at training, Leader resources and materials, and coaching and mentoring before, during, and after Leaders run small groups. Well-equipped Colossian Way Leaders are vital to building up churches and communities to gain the muscle memory to engage conflict in the strength of their redemption. Learn more about supporting Leaders here, and give online here.
Fears and Loves
February 14, 2020 | Emily Stroble
Fears and Loves
Do you ever get a twist of anxiety in the pit of your stomach when a loved one is late arriving home on a snowy night? Or, do you feel a sudden jolt in your heart rate when you hear of something troubling happening near a loved one’s house or office? We are often reluctant, even ashamed, to say we are afraid. But often, fear is inspired by an underlying love. Fear is the natural prompting to protect what we treasure. At The Colossian Forum, we help you examine some of those fears to find the love that motivates you. By “fear,” we don’t mean only those feelings connected to immediate danger. Rather, “fear” is shorthand for all the concerns, anxieties, and urges to defend or protect something—those feelings that motivate us to protect our loves. Fear is both the anxiety that a loved one could be hurt and the concern that a political policy might harm our communities. This fear or concern shapes our reactions, emotions, and arguments. Unsurprisingly, our “opponents,” (the people who threaten or disagree with us) are also shaped by these fears and loves. You’ve probably seen this play out with the people you love. Even as I think of some examples I’ve heard lately, I feel my fear engaging, ready to protect what I love. I feel an impulse to construct my own arguments in my mind, ready to fight. You may feel the same urge. Let’s resist it for a moment. Can you see the beloved thing or person behind these arguments? If we throw away this verse and that verse, what is to keep us from discarding the whole Bible? If some of it isn’t true, or we decide it no longer applies, how do we know Christ’s miracles and teachings are true, or that the resurrection is real? If the church speaks nothing but judgment and rejection to the LGBTQ community, we are telling those people—our friends, sons, and daughters—that there is no place for them in the church, in the story of salvation. We are turning away people made in the image of God. We’re commanded to love the least of these—the widow, the orphan, and the stranger. That’s the simplest definition of Christianity you can get, and it should apply to our immigration policy. I can’t vote for someone who isn’t pro-life. I can’t give power to someone who will not protect the lives of unborn children. If you boil these statements down, you can see that they all revolve around a deep love for people and a powerful desire to follow God’s will for the world and their own lives. Often, the “other side” is not maliciously plotting our destruction. Rather, they are frantically trying to protect their own loves and urging us to see the damage we are doing to what they hold dear. If we pause, we might find that we love the same things. Yet, our disagreements arise when we have competing ideas about how to best protect those things or how to prioritize so many precious things when the brokenness of our world requires us to make difficult choices. Our disagreements are not insignificant. We all have a lot at stake. But just imagine how our lives and relationships would be enriched if we could unveil and understand each other’s loves behind our fears. Can you imagine how fruitful a conversation would be if we were disagreeing about the right things, rather than finding new ways to call the other side evil? We might begin to see the humanity of the “other side.” We might become aware of what our fears are prompting us to do. And we may even discover that our “opponents” are trying to love us well, wanting to protect us and our communities from something we haven’t yet seen. We may even be encouraged, edified, and enlightened. Identifying underlying loves can help us see other angles and outcomes we would otherwise be blind to. This practice of pausing in the midst of intense arguments to acknowledge our fears and the loves behind them is a crucial step in The Colossian Way. It alerts us to potential pitfalls in our approach and advocates for the precious and vulnerable (though perhaps hidden) things our brothers and sisters in Christ hold dear. Give it a try the next time you find yourself in a heated situation. As your own heart rate rises, ask: What do you fear you’ll lose if the “other” side wins? What does the other person seem most concerned for? (Ask them if you are understanding them correctly.) What do you hope for? What do they hope for? Do you hope and fear for anything in common or related? We would love to hear what you discover as you try this practice. Share your story with us on social media using the hashtag “#fearsandloves” or by emailing us at info@colossianforum.org. For more on this practice and others, check out our newest Colossian Way curriculum, Political Talk.
Living in a Time between the Times - January/February 2020 Prayer Letter
February 10, 2020 | Michael Gulker
Living in a Time between the Times - January/February 2020 Prayer Letter
As our country wades through an impeachment process and we enter yet another election season, it’s easy for Christians to lose our storyline. We know this but often feel stuck. What choice do we have? We can’t just pretend the choice between left and right doesn’t exist, can we? Perhaps it’s helpful to remember that we’re hardly the first Christians to be caught up in the drama of state politics. Way back in the fifth century, in his book The City of God, Augustine wrestled with the confusion created by being dual citizens, members of both the Roman Empire and the Kingdom of God. I hope you enjoy this video, in which we explore how we can apply Augustine’s lessons to our own politically divisive moment.  [embed]https://vimeo.com/389767996[/embed] Please join us in giving thanks for: Our new Administrative Assistant, Lexi Jones. Lexi also serves as an ordained pastor at Takeover Church, where she is the part-time children’s pastor. She is also a bowler who has competed on the national level, and she coaches bowling at Jenison High School and Cornerstone University. She graduated from Calvin University, where she studied English Writing, with minors in English as a Second Language and Congregational and Ministry Studies, with emphases in Youth Ministry and Missions. Calvin University showcasing our friends Darrel Falk and Todd Wood in a January Series presentation, Moving beyond Labels to a Christian Dialogue about Creation and Evolution. Over 3,000 people were able to hear the compelling story of these men, two scientists who deeply disagree on the topic of origins, share a common faith in Jesus Christ, and began a sometimes-painful journey to explore how they can remain in Christian fellowship when each thinks the other is harming the church. Watch here. To Explore our book capturing their story, The Fool and the Heretic. Your faithful generosity and visionary heart for your churches and communities in helping us meet and exceed both our $25,000 year-end matching gift and the additional $10,000 matching challenge, resulting in over $75,000 of support for congregations and communities in crisis and conflict. Thank you for coming alongside your brothers and sisters in Christ.  The completion of our Political Talk small group curriculum, now available. At a time when Christians are hungry for new ways to overcome division and forge fruitful lives together, we pray this new Colossian Way curriculum gives them the tools they need to navigate political differences faithfully. Eight groups will be running Political Talk in our Spring 2020 Cohort. To order a copy of the curriculum or to bring Political Talk to your church, please contact us at tcw@colossianforum.org. The fulfillment of a significant three-year grant. Since 2017, we have partnered with Templeton Religion Trust to develop and launch our new mode of conflict engagement, The Colossian Way. We began with a pilot program of Leader Training and small-group curricula, which has now expanded to four topical curricula: Origins; Sexuality; Political Talk; and Women and Men in God’s Image (coming in 2021). Through this grant project, we have engaged over 11,000 people with our mission and, of these, over 1,000 people have participated in small groups, resulting in over 28,000 hours of formation in The Colossian Way method of conflict engagement. Jenell Paris and her tireless, faithful work on our Colossian Way curriculum, Women and Men in God’s Image, forthcoming in early 2021. We are so grateful for her friendship, wisdom, and commitment to the work of reconciliation. Please join us in praying for the following: The United Methodist Church and others who are divided. We pray that all those impacted will find ways to engage these conflicts faithfully. The 18 churches and schools that are preparing to run Colossian Way groups in our Spring 2020 Cohort. We pray their experience blesses them and renews their hope and confidence in their faith as a resource to navigate our most complex disagreements. If you’re interested in taking up The Colossian Way in your community, consider joining us at our next Leader Training in Grand Rapids, MI May 7-9, 2020. Our Board of Directors as they meet in February and continue to guide The Colossian Forum into new territory and endeavors in 2020 and beyond.

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