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Christ the King, King Over Everything
December 13, 2017 | Jennifer Vander Molen
Christ the King, King Over Everything
This month's prayer letter talked about our death before us, even when our resurrection is secure. Our world is full of struggle right now, and Advent reminds us that we join the suffering of our Savior, in both big and small ways. The "small house church" mentioned in the letter is Kalamazoo Mennonite Fellowship, and Pastor Will Fitzgerald gave us permission to post this sermon from Christ the King Sunday, November 26. We hope you enjoy a moment of hope and reassurance from this Gospel message today. Ephesians 1:15-23 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. This passage is from the first letter of Paul to the church in Ephesus, and he has heard good things about them. This is what he has heard: they have true faith in Jesus, and they show love to others, especially those in the church in need. Every time Paul thinks of them, he gives God thanks for them. I think we know what that’s like. Whenever I think about our former member, Elisha, it brings a smile to my face, and I often thank God. Who are people like that for you? Paul does something else for them: he prays for them. There are many things you can pray for someone, and many reasons why you think God will answer your prayer. In Paul’s case, he knows God can answer his prayer because God the Father was so powerful that he took a dead Jesus and raised him from death into a position of power – the position of power, seated at the Father’s right hand. He declared Christ to be king, king over everything. Christ is king over every “rule and authority and power and dominion.” That means Christ is king over the United States government, over the Democratic and Republican parties, over the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), over the armed forces. Christ is King over our bosses and the companies we work for. Christ is King over our parents and spouses and children. Christ is king over systems of addiction and every system of oppression. If there is something we truly need, none of these powerful things will get in the way of our achieving it through our powerful God. It may not come right away, but it will come in God’s own time. What are things that you feel powerless over? How can knowing that God is more powerful than whatever has you in its grip help you? Christ is also king over “every name that is named.” If it has a name, Christ is king over it. Christ is king over Donald J. Trump. Christ is king over every president and leader in the world. Christ is king over cancer and every disease. Christ is king over sadness and failure, and every moral lack. Christ is king over the devil and sin and hell and death. What could you name that frightens or threatens you? How does your obedience to Christ the King give you courage and strength? Paul finishes this section by saying that Christ the king orders everything for the sake of his body, which is the church. We are filled with Christ, who fills everything. And so, a bit, it comes full circle. Paul goes down this path because he remembered the faith of the believers at Ephesus, and how they loved other people. This is how Christ seems to be filling out the church: by making it full of faith and full of love. One of the ways we can think about becoming can be the “good sheep” that Ezekiel and Jesus talk about is exactly this: to increase in our trust of Jesus and to continue to love the people around us. It’s as simple and as hard as that. In closing let me ask these questions again: What things do you feel powerless over, that Christ, nonetheless, is king over? How does this change how you act or feel? What things can you name that frighten or threaten you? How does Christ the King give you courage and strength? How can this week be full of the “fullness of Christ” as you love others and increase your faith in him?
“Why is everyone struggling so much?” An Advent reflection
December 6, 2017 | Michael Gulker
“Why is everyone struggling so much?” An Advent reflection
Not long ago, my 13-year-old son Sam and I were attending our little Mennonite house church that we love so dearly. It wasn’t an easy Sunday. Nearly all of us, for a variety of reasons, were hurting pretty deeply—family struggles, concern for the gravely ill, loved ones who, for one reason or another, are no longer a part of us. People shared their pain so openly that Sam wondered aloud to me about it. He identified both with the struggles of others and his struggling teenage self, saying, “Why is everyone struggling so much? Why do we all go to church if it just means suffering?” While that is not the line of logic my years of theological conditioning provide me, on the surface it’s a pretty valid conclusion. Why do we bind ourselves to broken and suffering people? On our drive home, we were surrounded by billboards depicting happy, healthy, sexy people. Why not identify with them—the winners? Their super white smiles sure seem more convincing than our tears. Why can’t the faith be more obviously right? More visibly true? Why doesn’t God prove his Godhood to the world? I don’t have adequate answers to satisfy a teenage boy who is suffering from the terrors of adolescence. All I’ve got is Advent, and a God who didn’t come down in an undeniable blaze of glory but as a baby born amid scandal, political intrigue, suffering, and the slaughter of the innocents. The eternal Word of God, Logos of Creation, Wisdom of the Ages came enfleshed as an infant Jew, freely identifying himself with a broken, corrupt, suffering people. As with any word, this Word incarnate is eminently deniable, vulnerably open to multiple interpretations—not to mention murder. What are we to make of this? In his brilliant work on Dostoyevsky, Rowan Williams reflects on the theological nature of language and how Dostoyevsky “sees language itself as the indisputable marker of freedom: confronted with what seeks to close down exchange or conflict, we discover we can always say more.” Part of the freedom of being able to “say more” when we are confronted with Jesus—the Word of God—is that we can say more and deny its validity. Christ comes to us vulnerable, “unable to compel [us] since compulsion would make it impossible for the creator to appear as the creator of freedom.” This means that the “credibility of faith is in its freedom to let itself be judged and to grow. In the nature of the case, there will be no unanswerable demonstrations … apart from Christ.” Are there no unanswerable demonstrations apart from Christ? Because that’s exactly what I want most! I long for something provable, repeatable, tangible, undeniable. I want to be able to point to “something” and compel others to accept without having to embody it myself. I want to indisputably possess “something” without having to become like Jesus. But what we get is Christ’s hard-to-believe faith in the goodness of the Father. All done in the face of his betrayal and death—in the goodness and freedom of creation, just as that same freedom would be used to crush the one through whom it was made (John 1:3). Of course, living on the other side of Easter, we see that Jesus’ faith is vindicated in his resurrection and the lifting up of his name that is above every name (Philippians 2:9). Sam’s very correct intuition reveals this: our death is still before us, even if our resurrection is assured. I desperately want God to speak a word that would spare me from the vulnerability of death and the nearly unbearable freedom to live life in light of our certain death. Sam’s desire is my own—to avoid the suffering that comes to us because of the freedom we’ve been given and often misused. We’d rather buy into another false promise of billboard happiness with shiny, white-toothed smiles. We believe these false words—the false certainties that cause us to forfeit our birthright as children and heirs of the King and the freedom that comes with it—all for a cup of soup. It’s the cause of our suffering in the first place. It seems that only a few saints have not sold their birthright (said an isolated and depressed Elijah before God revealed that there were 7,000 such saints). But in our little house church, as in so many small and humble Christian fellowships across the ages, the birthright of the Kingdom has not been sold. Believers join their Savior in suffering the hurts of the world, in ways small and large. They do not shy away. They suffer the uncertainty of freedom. They participate in the passion of Christ, holding on to a sure knowledge of God’s goodness while uncertain about almost everything else. They aren’t sexy. They aren’t likely to be on billboards. When the Lamb who opens the scroll reveals what has mattered in the history of humanity, their names will be called out. And as John Howard Yoder, another incredibly broken believer, once said, history isn’t moved forward by cause and effect, manipulated by the powerful, but by the cross and resurrection of Christ and those who bear it. A deniable thesis to be sure, uttered by an eminently deniable human being. Quite frankly, there’s no place I’d rather be. No other people I’d rather be with, than with Christ and his broken, struggling body.
#GivingTuesday Success -- Thank You!
November 29, 2017 | Jennifer Vander Molen
#GivingTuesday Success -- Thank You!
In the midst of all the noise this holiday season, we want to thank you for your ongoing investment in The Colossian Forum’s transformational mission. You understand both the challenge and the promise of Colossians 1:17 that “all things hold together in Christ”—even Christ’s body, the church. You faithfully pray, volunteer, provide expertise, and give, and we are deeply grateful! Yesterday, we participated in #GivingTuesday, an annual day of charitable giving that piggybacks on Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday. We deeply appreciate the many prayers, gifts, and investment in us over the past year. We know that it’s hard to be hopeful during times of deepening cultural division when conflict threatens to fracture our closest relationships. Our mission is to equip the church with resources and practices to bridge the divides that polarize and paralyze us. We believe these wrenching conflicts provide an opportunity for the hope and healing we long for. Thanks for being part of the journey. May our unity in the midst of difference be a testimony to the wholeness and holiness of our Triune God.
Culture: The Beautiful Things We Hope For
November 22, 2017 | Jennifer Vander Molen
Culture: The Beautiful Things We Hope For
Each Colossian Way small group session opens with the group remembering why they're here and acknowledging God's presence. Messy situations, difficult subjects, polarizing conversations, and paralyzing conflict can all draw us into lives of deeper faithfulness to God. Success in the small groups can be measured by if we grew in love of God and love of neighbor through the course of the ten weeks together. These important tenets are also key parts of the internal culture at The Colossian Forum. We practice opening the day with morning prayer as a staff team, which helps us remember why we're here and acknowledge God's presence together. But prayer and meetings aren't the only components of a strong organizational culture. Here's a peek inside the curtain of what makes TCF tick in our organizational culture. Intentionally strengthening the organizational culture is an important priority as The Colossian Forum continues to grow. We developed the TCF Attitude to touch on the key aspects of our culture: a hungry spirit, humble heart, and being people of joy. We want to be a team that embodies a sensitive, efficient, innovative, and enjoyable workplace. Hungry Spirit Exhibiting a hungry spirit indicates the desire to grow more deeply into the image of Christ by pursuing excellence and a strong commitment to our mission of conflict as opportunity. We see the divisive issues we engage in as places where the church can do better and we're hungry to make that happen. A hungry spirit also involves displaying an urgent desire to manifest Christ's peace in the world. We actively seek to be the best in what we do and engage in responsible risk-taking. TCF is hungry to do more, learn more, and broaden the scope of our mission. The shadow side of that hunger is the high pressure and toll on relationships. It can be easy to become discouraged, be hungry for things we haven't been given, and demanding God to do things that fit in our agenda. Humble Heart Alongside a hungry spirit lies a humble heart, which means that at TCF embodies Mark 12:30-31 by exhibiting a love of God and love of neighbor. We delight in the different gifts and desires God's put on our team, and work hard to embody our mission of conflict as opportunity. A humble heart is also respectful, disciplined, and respectful. We genuinely care for one another and humbly submit to the mission of The Colossian Forum. We also recognize that we don't have all the answers and happily connect with partners who can help us broaden and implement our thoughts, worldview, and mission. Sometimes it's hard to have a humble heart when pursuing excellence and having a fear of failure. Often it's easy to rely on pride and control instead of submitting to the Lord in humility. People of Joy Underlying the hungry spirit and humble heart is that at our core, we are people of joy who truly delight in God and each other. We embrace the staff team family and have great hope that we can live into our remarkable mission. We do our best to not take ourselves too seriously--after all, it's God's world, not ours. Our team also works to maintain perspective and engage in healthy spiritual practices. It's a true joy to celebrate God's work in us through both successes and failures. Even the most joyful among us can struggle with fear of failure and the pressures of overwork, and it's no different at TCF. It's hard to accommodate the time for celebration and joy with the expectation of task completion. It's a balance to incorporate joy into our work life, but one we're committed to integrating better. It's easy to forget that how we act comes under our service to Christ and that we are living this out as Christians. We hope this glimpse into the hopes and fears behind how we work at The Colossian Forum helps point to the beautiful things we hope for.
The Joy of the Inner-Directed Life
November 15, 2017 | Jennifer Vander Molen
The Joy of the Inner-Directed Life
Lou Huesmann is the senior pastor at Grace Long Beach, which recently went through The Colossian Way training. He shared this excellent reflection and an article from Rabbi Sacks with us. Thanks, Lou!   Is character strictly personal, or does culture have a part to play? In other words, does when and where you live make a difference to the kind of person you become? These questions are raised by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in a recent reflection on the classic book from 1950, The Lonely Crowd. The book's two sociologist authors develop the idea that particular kinds of historical circumstances give rise to particular kinds of people. In reflecting on The Lonely Crowd, Rabbi Sacks argues for the recovery of an "inner-directed" people for the sake of the world. In a culture largely comprised of "other-directed" individuals who find their direction in life from contemporary culture and winning the approval of others, the work of The Colossian Forum is vital. The Colossian Forum is providing groundbreaking training that has the potential to change not simply individuals but also the larger culture through its emphasis on developing the acquisition of virtues and practices that mark an "inner-directed" person. It's this inner-directedness that provides the security and courage to be different and the confidence to build a better, more life-giving future. Inner-Directedness, by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. If you see something that sparks a connection with TCF's mission, we'd love to hear from you!
Consumption and Conflict Avoidance
November 8, 2017 | Michael Gulker
Consumption and Conflict Avoidance
Well, friends, it’s November. Fall colors. Crisp, cool air. Football. Family. Thanksgiving. And yes, Black Friday. The shopping season is upon us once again, calling us all to order our time and schedules to the rhythms of super sales and dynamite deals, hurtling us toward Christmas at breakneck speed. How is it that Thanksgiving—memorializing a surprising friendship that significantly aided the tenuous survival of the Plymouth Plantation—is now seen as the launch of the shopping season? Perhaps shopping provides a welcome distraction from all the underlying family tensions that the Thanksgiving season inevitably raises. It’s now common when discussing holiday plans to hear friends worry about how they will get through those pressures unscathed. SNL hilariously memorialized these tensions when a family, hopelessly mired in ideological warfare, is rescued by their common love for Adele’s hit song “Hello.” I think there’s a significant link here between conflict and consumption – be it of gluttonous quantities of food, Black Friday specials, or Adele’s trendy tunes. On the surface, these distractions save us from dealing with the deep divides we most fear. While we are filling our stomachs, schedules, and credit cards, our lives are marked with a scarcity of love and life-giving relationships. We live fearful and shallow lives, unable to discuss the things we care about most. Beneath this lies the Nietzschean presumption that the core of the world is conflict, not communion. As original a thinker as Nietzsche was, his perspective was hardly new. Augustine engages the problem in relation to the Roman Empire. The Pax Romana (peace of Rome) mercilessly suppressed dissent through fear and violence. Rome determined the shape of life for Augustine’s known world, structuring time (July for Julius, August for Augustus), family (the gods’ love patronage), and forms of fellowship (Colosseum for blood sport anyone?). In his work, The City of God, Augustine describes the world not as determined by the coercive power of Rome but as two cities, or two stories played out simultaneously. The old story of fear, conflict, and death, was the City of Man controlled by the narrative of sin and human fallibility (fallen-ness?). But Augustine saw a hope-filled tale; the City of God upstaging the Roman City of Man. Two cities. Two cultures. Two understandings of one world. These cities overlapped and competed against each other. But the fate of each city was already sealed hundreds of years earlier, by a backwater prophet from a backwater province, supposedly crushed under the Pax Romana. Problem was, he didn’t stay dead. And in his resurrection, we see the City of Man’s principalities and powers destroyed; death dethroned; fear and conflict defeated. They no longer have the last word. In the resurrected Christ, we see a foretaste of what’s to come – the reason for the hope that is in us (I Peter 3:15). Yet, there are still two storylines playing out and we live with a foot in both worlds. Jesus shows us the trajectory of the new narrative from within the old. He’s grafted us into his people. He’s made Israel’s story our story. In fact, he’s grafted us into himself, as part of his very own body. And as his body, our lives are ordered by new time toward a future full of hope. We’ve also been given a new calendar (the liturgical calendar) by which to order our lives around his birth, life, death, resurrection, and gift of his Spirit. We’ve been adopted into a new family (the church) and offered new forms of fellowship through worship, the sacraments, sacred celebrations. Our new family calendar culminates not in Thanksgiving and the shopping season but in a celebration of Christ the King Sunday (Google it), a celebration of Christ’s Kingship over all creation. As God’s people, we celebrate the victorious City of God right in the middle of the City of Man. Together, as his body, we celebrate Christ’s ultimate victory over fear, conflict, sin, and death, and the vindication of hope, communion, life, and love. And we get to be a part of it! But we don’t do alone. We can only live in liturgical time, Christ’s time, as we order our lives to Christ’s life together. As one, we celebrate by confessing and believing that Jesus Christ is Lord and our conflicts are overcome. Although, we still live with a foot in both worlds. I invite you to live primarily as citizens of the City of God—citizens who have been reconciled to God and one another through Christ’s victory. And as you celebrate the rituals of Thanksgiving Thursday, remember that first there was Christ the King Sunday. Worship and reconciliation replace consumption and conflict avoidance.