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Job and God – a good conversation

Posted by on September 30, 2014

“I am angry with you…because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.”

-God, quoted in Job 42:7

If you’ve ever read through the entire book of Job, you may have found this verse a bit puzzling. It follows a conversation between Job and his friends, in which they wrestle with the meaning of Job’s sufferings. His friends are trying to help free him from his misery by pointing out what he’s getting wrong, and admonishing him to make things right with God. Generally speaking, the friends’ comments are spot on. In sharp contrast, Job complains and rages, blaming God for his suffering and misfortune. On the page, at least, the friends seem much closer to getting it right. Why, then, would God come out in Job’s defense? What is He holding against Job’s friends?

Drew Lewis, friend of TCF, recently shared his reflections on this striking passage, pointing out that the Hebrew preposition translated in most English texts as “of” might also be correctly translated “to.” This leads him to suggest that God’s concern may have been less with what was said than with the way that this conversation was carried out. While Job’s friends spent their time talking with Job about God, Job’s angry outbursts were continually directed towards God. In other words, Job’s friends described a coherent (and largely correct) theological vision, but in such a way that more or less left the presence of the living God out of the picture. And though Job may have been taking some doctrinal missteps as he responded to his friends, all the while he was calling out to God in the midst of his suffering and confusion. To be sure, God wasted no time in setting Job straight on several counts (see chapter 38), but he also affirmed Job’s desire for relationship in the midst of deeply troubling questions. Furthermore, God went so far as to have Job intercede on behalf of his friends, and forgave their mistakes in response to Job’s sacrifice. Clearly, the relationships between Job and God, and between Job and his friends, emerged from this extended upheaval not only intact, but even strengthened!

This passage affirms what we’re after at TCF: engaging difficult conversations – and even suffering – in direct relationship with God. While we do certainly encourage talking about conflict and controversy with our sisters and brothers, we structure our conversations with the goal of relating to God throughout. We are confident that our mistakes can be redeemed, and even in the midst of our own failings God invites us ever deeper into relationship with him – and through him, with each other. This is why we begin and end our forums in prayer, and why we often take midpoint breaks for silence and reflection. We build in time for confession and worship, and we frame our conversations with Scripture. Our goal is that at the end of each forum, in one way or another, together we might hear the astonishing words: “…you have spoken to me what is right.

 

Drew Lewis is the author of Read Him Again and Again! Repetitions of Job in Kierkegaard, Vischer, and Barth, and the forthcoming Approaching Job. He blogs at azlewis.wordpress.com.

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Another welcome!

Posted by on September 19, 2014

I am pleased to announce the addition of Craig Schrotenboer to The Colossian Forum team. Craig joins us as Director of Operations, bringing with him extensive operational experience with Herman Miller, Danveport University, Youth For Christ, and KIDS HOPE USA. Craig’s skills and gifts are already helping TCF to become more efficient and effective as we continue to develop our capacity to serve the church.

 

 

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Prayer Letter, September 2014

Posted by on September 4, 2014

leaves-burn5892-mediumThen he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 
Exodus 3:5

In this week’s lectionary reading, Moses steps off the path to investigate a perplexing sight: a bush that burns but is not consumed. As he approaches, he hears a warning, and realizes that this odd and perhaps frightening vision veils the voice of the God!

In some ways, a TCF forum isn’t all that unlike Moses’ odd desert experience. We invite our participants to step “off the path” of the usual and customary ways of disagreeing. We venture onto uncharted ground, hopeful that amidst the dry sands and crumbling rock of conflict, we might encounter the transformative presence of God. And like Moses, we often hear the voice of God calling out to us in surprising—and sometimes disconcerting—ways.

During this last month, we hosted a gathering to explore Christian faithfulness in the midst of significant tensions about human sexuality. Not surprisingly, this conversation took us well off the worn path of the experience of many in the church today. The pain and confusion on all sides of this topic sometimes threaten to overwhelm. During our time together, however, it became increasingly clear that God is calling the church onto holy ground: into deep trust that we will not be consumed or destroyed by this, but instead transformed into deeper holiness. As a wise friend of TCF recently observed, “A safe space is not the same thing as a holy space.” We are grateful for this group of remarkable Christians who together took courageous steps onto difficult but holy ground.

Thank you for praying with us as we venture into holy spaces.

 

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Welcome!

Posted by on August 22, 2014

Andy 1- croppedI am pleased to welcome Andy Saur to the staff of TCF. He brings a strong professional background and deep personal interest to his role of Executive Assistant. Andy holds a bachelor’s degree in Communications from Wheaton College, and a diploma in Entertainment Business Management from Vancouver Film School. In the short time he’s been with us, he’s proven himself to be a tireless worker with an unparalleled eye for detail and a strong commitment to our mission of encouraging Christian faithfulness in the midst of difficult conversations. We’re grateful to have him on the team!

 

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Resources to Explore: Christian Faithfulness & Human Sexuality

Posted by on August 16, 2014

The Colossian Forum has spent the last week with a variety of scholars, pastors, teachers, and leaders, engaging hard questions about human sexuality. For many, engagement with these issues is fraught with difficulty, confusion, frustration, and disagreement. As Christians continue to engage with these issues, however, it will be very important to understand and converse with a variety of perspectives and people, so that we can know better how to reach out together to our world with the Gospel. To this end, we have asked the contributors to this gathering to recommend for us some of their personal books, websites, and resources in engaging with faith, science, and culture on these hard questions. As you will see, these resources represent a broad variety of Christian perspectives. We share them with you as an encouragement that the church can enter into this conversation without fear, testifying to the truth that somehow, this too “holds together in Christ.” 

Ron Belgau
cityofgod.net
spiritualfriendship.org
 
Alan Chambers
alanchambers.org
 
Christopher Damian
spiritualfriendship.org
universityideas.wordpress.com

Wendy Gritter
newdirection.ca
 
Harold Heie
respectfulconversation.net
Evangelicals on Public Policy Issues

Wesley Hill
spiritualfriendship.org
Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality
 
Justin Lee
justinlee.co
gaychristian.net
Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-Vs.-Christians Debate

Tim Otto
orientedtofaith.com
Oriented to Faith: Transforming the Conflict over Gay Relationships
 
Mark Yarhouse
sexualidentityinstitute.org
facebook.com/issi.site
Understanding Sexual Identity
Homosexuality and the Christian
 

This guest post was contributed by friend of TCF Christopher Damian, who graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 2013 with a B.A. in philosophy. He currently serves as a Terrence J. Murphy Fellow at the University of St. Thomas, where he is pursuing a J.D. and an M.A. in Catholic Studies. He has broad and varied interests, including the history and philosophy of education, Christian philosophy, political theory, sex and sexuality, virtue ethics, professional development, and the new legal economy. He has written for Spiritual Friendship, Ethika Politika, The Intercollegiate Review, The Observer, The Irish Rover, Millennial Journal, and Crisis Magazine. In his free time, he enjoys playing piano and writing reviews of coffee shops in the Twin Cities area.

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A sad farewell

Posted by on July 31, 2014

It is with sadness that I announce the upcoming departure of Brian Cole, Director of Operations. When Brian joined The Colossian Forum in July of 2012, TCF was a simple two-person organization ready to grow in complexity, scope and professionalism. Due to his professionalism, hard work and personal integrity, Brian helped TCF mature from a fledgling non-profit startup into a widely recognized and respected non-profit organization known for its high standard of excellence, solid support base and bright future.

Brian has helped shape TCF in remarkable ways, and his excellent and diligent work will be missed. As we part ways, I wish him all the best.

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Asking Hard Questions

Posted by on July 21, 2014

As I’m sure you know, TCF was founded out of a desire to help Christians respond faithfully to conflict. We’ve invested quite a lot of time and resources with friends who have devoted their lives to working on controversial issues, particularly in the arena of faith and science. And we’re deeply grateful for the trust and collaboration of Christians on all sides of these issues.

One set of difficult questions to which we frequently return have to do with Christian perspectives on creation and evolution. Our creationist friends, in particular, have pressed us to ask and address some of the significant theological problems raised by an evolutionary model of human origins. Our friends who accept evolution also recognize that the church needs to do more work on these questions (though perhaps they hold out greater hope for good answers).

In response to these questions from all sides, we’ve been grateful to participate in a grants program administered by the BioLogos Foundation. Our project brings together a group of scholars to explore very specific themes regarding human origins, sin, and the fall. This team represents a broad variety of disciplines and perspectives, so by its very nature couldn’t possibly advocate for one specific perspective on the topics. We don’t expect to find a “final answer” to the many important questions stirred up by these issues, and in fact we anticipate a fair amount of disagreement about some of the answers that might be proposed.

Importantly, however, we hope to see this group disagree well. Controversy can divide the church, to be sure. But at TCF, we believe that it can also be fertile ground for the work of God’s Spirit, sanctifying us as we submit ourselves and our conflicts to Christ’s Lordship. We intentionally structure our gatherings around worship, and trust that as we pray together, God will grow in us a deeper love for himself and for each other. Our goal is to engage not just the issues, but also one another, in a way that is faithful to our shared calling in Christ.

 As we worship together, holding each other accountable to the needs and pressures felt by the church we seek to serve, we trust that this will lead us to unearth deeper insight into some of the problems we’re facing together. Over time, we anticipate that this group’s work will serve as a resource for our friends, young earth creationist and evolutionary creationist alike. It may answer particular questions on all sides, and we hope that it will help lay out the contours of a difficult conversation. But above all, in the midst of a deeply divisive issue, we trust that this project will model what it looks like to participate in the unity that we share in Christ. 

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Writers: don’t miss this!

Posted by on May 30, 2014

TCF is pleased to share the following remarkable opportunity with our partners and friends. Consider a writing retreat in our neighborhood!

Issachar Fund Writing Retreat
Grand Rapids, Michigan
Open application beginning August 1, 2014

The Issachar Fund will be accepting applications from August 1-September 19 for individuals seeking to write. Any individual–a pastor, scholar, author, or graduate student–may apply to support research and writing in one of their Areas of Inquiry.  The Writing Retreat includes travel reimbursement, a monthly stipend, and a furnished apartment in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Please visit their website to learn more and submit your application. 

 

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Now hiring: Associate Director of Forums and Scholarship

Posted by on May 27, 2014

We invite all qualified applicants to consider this opening with The Colossian Forum:

Reporting to the Director of Forums and Scholarship, the Associate Director of Forums and Scholarship will be responsible for both extending TCF’s methods for engaging divisive topics and bringing these methods to fruition within the church. The successful candidate will have a Ph.D. in Bible/Theology or other, related discipline coupled with broad intellectual interests and an ability to learn new subject areas as needed, particularly across the range of high-stakes issues at the intersection of Christian faith, science, and culture. This person will develop and execute strategic plans for distributing TCF’s methods across a range of levels from scholars and pastors to laity on various topics. This position requires demonstrated pastoral abilities for leading faith communities thoughtfully and worshipfully and facilitation skills for navigating difficult group dynamics in tense conversations.

Learn more about this position and the application process here. Application screening will begin June 15, 2014 and will continue until the position is filled. 

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Life Together

Posted by on May 22, 2014

Life TogetherHere at the TCF office, we’ve just finished reading our way through Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. It’s a challenging read, calling us to very concrete practices that honor the community that God has given us. Bonhoeffer doesn’t give any easy answers, but assures us that God’s grace is with us as we work to live well together. There’s a great deal in the book that informs TCF’s work to help Christians disagree well; this quote in particular offers a solid foundation for our forum work:

God did not make others as I would have made them. God did not give them to me so that I could dominate and control them, but so that I might find the Creator by means of them. Now other people, in the freedom with which they were created, become an occasion for me to rejoice, whereas before they were only a nuisance and trouble for me. God does not want me to mold others into the image that seems good to me, that is, into my own image. Instead, in their freedom from me God made other people in God’s own image.

When we bump up against someone whose perspectives are frustrating to us, who we can’t understand (or maybe don’t want to) Bonhoeffer reminds us that this very person bears the image of Christ. Hidden, perhaps, behind their difference from me, is a revelation of the God we both serve. And it’s my work, in obedience to Christ, to look for the ways in which my brother or sister can help bring me closer to our Father.

 

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The Colossian Forum is hiring

Posted by on May 15, 2014

TCF is growing again! We’re deeply grateful for an enthusiastic response to our mission, and we’re working to respond to many remarkable opportunities to expand the number and reach of our programs. We’ve realized, however, that we can’t do this without a larger team, so we’ve just opened applications for two new positions:

The Manager of Finance and Strategic Processes will partner closely with the President to chart the organization’s future growth and strategic response to an ever-increasing demand for its services. This person has a range of responsibilities from partner and project management (framing of key approaches, high-quality partner delivery, written products), administration (information technology, reporting, facilities), and marketing (giving oversight to communications activities that promote, enhance, and protect the organization’s brand reputation). The successful candidate will have an advanced/MBA degree preferred or BA with strong business experience; 5+ distinguished years in a management position in a nonprofit organization, foundation, or government agency with a track record delivering superior results, earning respect, and assuming leadership roles.

Reporting to the Director of Forums and Scholarship, the Associate Director of Forums and Scholarship will be responsible for both extending TCF’s methods for engaging divisive topics and bringing these methods to fruition within the church. The successful candidate will have a Ph.D. in Bible/Theology or other, related discipline coupled with broad intellectual interests and an ability to learn new subject areas as needed, particularly across the range of high-stakes issues at the intersection of Christian faith, science, and culture. This person will develop and execute strategic plans for distributing TCF’s methods across a range of levels from scholars and pastors to laity on various topics. This position requires demonstrated pastoral abilities for leading faith communities thoughtfully and worshipfully and facilitation skills for navigating difficult group dynamics in tense conversations.

If you’re interested, please review the full job descriptions and follow the application instructions as described.

We appreciate your interest and investment in this work!

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Prayer Letter – May 2014

Posted by on May 8, 2014

When he was abused, he did not return abuse;
when he suffered, he did not threaten;
but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly.
-1 Peter 2:23

The work that we do at TCF is grounded in an Easter hope. Christ’s death reminds us that sacrifice and suffering are central to a faithful life, while his resurrection invites us into confidence that God’s redeeming power is already at work in our midst. As Christians, there are times when we suffer as he suffers; as sinners, there are also times when we ourselves inflict the suffering. In either case, our suffering becomes an opportunity for Christ’s love and power to be revealed.

Modeled on these truths about God’s kingdom, our forums invite participants into difficult conversations with the assurance that it will likely involve painful struggle. It’s possible we will be hurt by another participant, and odds are that we’ll cause someone else suffering as well. We will need to both forgive and repent. At the same time, we enter into these controversies with hope and trust, assured that ultimately their resolution is in God’s hands. We don’t bear the weight of solving these problems alone: we trust that the Church’s struggle and pain will be redeemed by a good and loving God, who continually invites us into friendship with himself and each other.

We recently had the privilege of hosting a forum on the campus of Andrews University, where participants risked some very difficult conversations. As we engaged various heavily charged issues, our group prayed and worshipped and trusted that God’s goodness would somehow hold this all together – and at least thus far, he has! Fittingly, we concluded this forum just in time to celebrate Christ’s resurrection.

 Thank you for your prayers on behalf of this work.

 

This post is excerpted from our May prayer letter. If you would like to pray for TCF on a regular basis, please contact admin@colossianforum and ask to receive our monthly prayer letters. Thank you.

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What is a TCF Discovery Event?

Posted by on April 30, 2014

jilldevriesphotography-24On Wednesday, April 23, TCF hosted a Discovery Event, designed to share with a diverse group of local people our ministry of reconciliation and education. The event was held at our office in Grand Rapids, and included personal introductions, a presentation by our President, Michael Gulker, and a Q&A session. Most of the participants were new to TCF and were intrigued with our approach to divisive, tough issues surrounding faith, science, and culture as opportunities for spiritual and communal growth.

Our 17 guests represented a wide range of ministries, and many were able to envision ways to partner with TCF in order to serve their own communities. In the end, people came away learning three things: why we need a new kind of conversation, what is “new” about this conversation, and how they can participate. During the Q&A time, people were excited about TCF’s work and voiced some thoughtful questions, including “How does a forum make long-term impact?” and “How do you address conversations that don’t seem to be making progress?”

TCF welcomes these hard questions and encourages this same type of honest listening and gracious speaking in our forums. The hope is that our Discovery Events will not only inspire and encourage people, but will provide them with a variety of ways to engage difficult conversations within their own communities.

If you are interested in attending or hosting a Discovery event, contact us and let us know!

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What is a “listening forum”?

Posted by on April 23, 2014

How often do we feel truly listened to – not just heard but known? The body of Christ is strengthened when we use divisive issues as opportunities to build each other up through the service of listening to one another. Because we live in a culture that is fast-paced and full of distractions, listening as a spiritual discipline is something that takes practice and intentionality. TCF hopes to cultivate this virtue in communities by allowing people the space to stop what they’re doing for a time and give their full attention to their fellow Christians. When we practice this in our daily lives, we not only build connections with our brothers and sisters, we also allow the Holy Spirit to create in us the capacity to listen well so that when the most difficult issues arise, we are ready.     

A couple of weeks ago we gathered a group of people in our office living room for a Listening Forum. Our goal was to create a safe space for people to share their stories and thoughts about divisive issues in the church and Christian institutions. As we do in all our forums, we began and ended our time together in worship by confessing our common unity in Christ through prayer and scripture reading. This important practice shaped the way we listened and responded to each other – it formed our hearts and minds towards the Spirit’s work of reconciliation that happens within – and through us – when we acknowledge our dependence on God.

The evening continued as we shared both positive and negative experiences of Christians handling difficult issues. Some stories brought up old feelings of frustration and pain, while others brought hope for a better way forward – what we call “faithful conflict.” Along the way, folks were also able to name a number of issues that they felt could not be addressed in church or with other Christians because of the tensions that these issues often raise. By simply bringing these issues to light, the burden of shame that often accompanies these difficult topics was lifted, and together we cultivated our ability to listen well.

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Surprises and Transformations – The Practice of Hospitality

Posted by on April 15, 2014

Friend of TCF Darrin Compagner recently preached about the Christian practices that help us to build healthy and faithful communities. He’s agreed to share some of his thoughts in the form of a four-part blog series, focusing especially on Christine Pohl’s book “Living Into Community.” Each week, we’ll also suggest one practice for you to try out – a Christian discipline that can help you, too, become the kind of person who can disagree well. For Week 4: Find one specific opportunity to extend Christian hospitality. Remember that this isn’t about entertaining, but about sharing friendship in a way that reflects God’s own love to your guest.

The fourth practice we looked at, following Christine Pohl, was hospitality. In some ways, it is in practices of hospitality that all these things come together. Hospitality plays a key role in Christian communities. It is a necessary ingredient to make the community authentically Christian, as opposed to self-interested and self-serving. It is a means of extending the life and friendship of Christian community, and the life and friendship of God, to others.

In the ancient world, both Jewish and Greco-Roman, hospitality was a high value. Hospitality provided for the needs of travelers, apart from which travel might have been impossible. It was also a tightly prescribed social convention, with fairly well-defined patterns of greeting, welcome, provision, and reciprocity (See Entertaining Angels: Early Christian Hospitality in its Mediterranean Setting by Andrew Arterbury).

And there’s plenty on hospitality in the Scriptures, as well. Hospitality is one of those themes where, once you see it in the Scriptures and in Christian life, you can’t stop seeing it. We looked at that foundational story in Genesis 18 where God comes as a surprise guest to Abraham and Sarah. In a paradigmatic way, the demanding practice of hospitality provides a context where God provides blessing and revelation. The surprise guest, the God who shows up, who visits, who knocks at doors and makes himself a guest, is a recurrent theme (Matthew 25, Hebrews 13:1-2, Revelation 3:20). Surprises await us when we extend ourselves in practices of hospitality to strangers of all kinds.

Eugene Peterson writes in his memoir (The Pastor) that “inhospitality is epidemic in America.” A lot of people are displaced, without a place to belong. People are increasingly mobile, cut off from tradition and community. The rapid proliferation of technology, while promising to give us all kinds of leisure time to be with one another, often replaces personal interrelations with machines, and the frenetic place of life leaves little room for slow, intimate connection and relationship.

Even so, we still have need for hospitality, but tend to put in its place one of two other things. On the one hand, there is the “hospitality industry,” which turns hospitality from a relational encounter to a consumer and contractual one. What we are left to practice ourselves is very often not hospitality, but entertaining (I called Entertaining the “evil twin” of Hospitality in a sermon, and got a wonderful picture from a child of our congregation of the two personified, with Entertainment a vile beast in pitched contest with Hospitality). Where hospitality is a genuine, humble, offering and opening of yourself to your guest, entertaining is prideful, a vain showing off to your guest. 

True hospitality, to borrow from Tim Keller’s definition, is the heart and practice which turn strangers into guests, guests into friends, and friends into potential members of the family. In this way, it reflects God’s own gracious heart, and becomes not only one practice among many, but the purpose and orientation of so many Christian practices of worship, evangelism, justice, and mercy.

The Scriptures reveal a God who shows up not only as the Surprise Guest, but also makes himself the consummate Gracious Host. Christian hospitality, as a grateful echo of God’s own gracious hospitality, empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit, cultivates hearty and nourishing Christian community. Thank God for those who know how to welcome the guest in worship, welcome the neighbor in their home, and welcome spiritual sojourners to the table of grace and truth.

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Trust Falls and Fails: Practices of Faithfulness and Truthfulness

Posted by on April 9, 2014

Friend of TCF Darrin Compagner recently preached about the Christian practices that help us to build healthy and faithful communities. He’s agreed to share some of his thoughts in the form of a four-part blog series, focusing especially on Christine Pohl’s book “Living Into Community.” Each week, we’ll also suggest one practice for you to try out – a Christian discipline that can help you, too, become the kind of person who can disagree well. For Week 3: Think about a commitment you’ve made that you may be struggling to keep. Maybe it’s a small project at the office, or a tea party with your daughter – whatever it is, take some time this week to follow through.

 

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Christian community begins in grateful response to the grace and gifts of God. This grateful response, then, takes shape in practices of faithfulness and truthfulness.

Or at least, that’s how it’s supposed to work. In practice, we often find it difficult to speak truth, to make and keep promises, to give one another our trust, and to be worthy of trust.

Perhaps you’ve been in a setting where a group attempts a trust fall exercise. The idea is simple enough, to develop and build trust through a simple exercise of falling back and being caught. A Youtube video helpfully and comically, if painfully, chronicles a number of ways such exercises can go wrong. 

For many of us, we know of and have experienced similar moments in Christian community. Someone attempts to build trust by telling the truth, only to speak wounding words. Another person gives us a promise that they will surely show up for an event, but fails to follow through. Each opportunity for telling truth and demonstrating faithfulness is a little exercise in building a trusting community. But it’s also an opportunity to undermine that very trust.

And there are other things that can undermine communal trust and truth. Culturally, we are often shaped towards anti-faithfulness by having unlimited options. We stay in consumer mode in ways that make steady communal relationships impossible. We feel jaded towards truth and faithfulness because we are subjected to such a steady stream of untruthfulness and broken promises in carefully crafted ad campaigns and politicians seeking re-election. In an often dishonest and unpredictable world, truth-telling and faithfulness don’t come naturally to us.

 What Scripture emphasizes above all is the truth and faithfulness of God. God does not keep all his options open, but binds himself via promises. He did so to Abraham, and a longish section of Genesis traces the various trust falls and fails as Abraham haltingly grows in faith. But finally, as Hebrews 6 summarizes, Abraham “waited patiently” and “received what was promised.” In Christ, we have God’s faithfulness given in the flesh, our faithful high priest, who is for us an “anchor for the soul.”

So a people, anchored in Christ, living in the midst of an unsteady, commitment-averse culture, can be steady enough to make and keep promises, big and small. Apart from this the work of Christian community is consistently undermined, like building a sand-castle within reach of the waves. 

As with practices of Gratitude, Christian communities can call one another to practice Truthfulness and Faithfulness in counter-cultural ways. Sometimes it is little promises made and kept, like signing up to help with a clean-up day and, wonderfully, showing up to do so. Sometimes it is naming difficulties early and clearly, and eschewing the posturing and constant image-maintenance expected in a consumer culture. Such acts build trusting and trustworthy communities, and they make the faithfulness and truthfulness of God, too, credible.

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Echoing Grace: Practices of Thankfulness

Posted by on April 1, 2014

Friend of TCF Darrin Compagner recently preached about the Christian practices that help us to build healthy and faithful communities. He’s agreed to share some of his thoughts in the form of a four-part blog series, focusing especially on Christine Pohl’s book “Living Into Community.” Each week, we’ll also suggest one practice for you to try out – a Christian discipline that can help you, too, become the kind of person who can disagree well. For Week 2: Last week you practiced gratitude by thanking God for your community. This week, try to extend that gratitude to those around you – take advantage of every opportunity you come across to say “thank you.” 

Following Christine Pohl, the first theme we explored in our fall sermon series was “Thankfulness.” We began by looking at 2 Corinthians 8:1-9. It’s a fascinating passage with three communities on the horizon. One is the Macedonian Christians, who Paul notes are living in “deep poverty.” The second is the community back in Jerusalem, enduring a famine with devastating effects. And the third, the audience for the letter, is the community in relatively well-to-do Corinth. Each community is lacking something: the first two, obviously enough, are lacking money and food. The third, the Corinthians, have money and food, and even good intentions for generosity. What they lack is follow-through. They had pledged a big gift to help out, but a year later, hadn’t signed the check.

And so Paul holds before them the Macedonians, who out of their poverty, gave generously to help the Jerusalemites. And now it is the Corinthians, Paul urges, that can prove the “sincerity of their love” through generosity. Their poverty is one of joy that leads to generosity, and Paul’s response is to highlight “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.”

Here, Paul meets the deep need of the Corinthians with the deep message of the grace of God. Jesus Christ set aside wealth, stepped into our deep poverty, and through his poverty we are made abundantly rich in communion with God. Apart from the grace of God, we tend to tell our stories, and view our world, as one of scarcity.  This leads us to give, when we do, in a cautious and calculated kind of way. What Paul calls for is another way, one rooted deeply in God’s abundant grace, that leads to an abundance of joy and generosity capable of giving freely and fully.

Human hearts and communities have a kind of cavernous emptiness about them. In Christ, God has spoken into this emptiness with an abundant and resounding Word. What comes echoing back is gratitude. When we know our emptiness and need, our sin and misery, we appreciate also the Word that fills our emptiness. When we know our poverty, we are primed to be receivers of grace, and then to echo God’s grace by extending gratitude to one another.

This rooting in gratitude is absolutely vital for Christian community both in theory as well as in practice. Practicing gratitude requires taking time and developing the capacity to notice those little things that build communal life without drawing attention to themselves. This means noticing the one who does the dishes, noticing the one who delivers the meal, noticing the one who lends a listening ear. In relation to the other practices, it means noticing and giving thanks for the one who knows how to speak the truth in love, and for the one who demonstrates faithfulness, and the one who provides gracious hospitality.

Without gratitude, all these other practices will die on the vine. We may not notice Gratitude’s functioning in a community, but are sure to notice if it is absent. If gratitude greases the wheels of life together, ingratitude grates and grinds. People develop a cultivated sense of score-keeping and entitlement. Envy, what Pohl calls “anti-gratitude,” and grumbling can spread through the system and the result is toxic.

Fortunately, Christian communities have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to cultivating Gratitude. Historic patterns of Christian worship emphasize this back and forth of Grace and Gratitude. The Psalms are full of thanksgiving that is both broad and specific. The communion meal is one of Eucharist (“thanksgiving”) rich with themes that carry over into receiving all of life as God’s gracious gift. Every person present contributes some gift to the body that can be noticed and appreciated. Above all, God’s actions and gifts through Christ and the Holy Spirit inspire and enable grateful living.

And so God’s grace echoes on and on in Christian communities of Gratitude.

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How Very Good and Pleasant: Thoughts on Christian Community

Posted by on March 25, 2014

Friend of TCF Darrin Compagner recently preached about the Christian practices that help us to build healthy and faithful communities. He’s agreed to share some of his thoughts in the form of a four-part blog series, focusing especially on Christine Pohl’s book “Living Into Community.” Each week, we’ll also suggest one practice for you to try out – a Christian discipline that can help you, too, become the kind of person who can disagree well. For Week 1: Consider the Christian community of which you are a part – be honest about both the joys and sorrows of life together. Then each day this week, thank God for one specific aspect of your community.

“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” So claims Psalm 133, and it is the verse Dietrich Bonhoeffer chose to start his classic book, Life Together. The Psalm goes on to evoke what an altogether lovely thing it is, what a bounteous blessing it can be, when human lives interweave in holy harmony.

Genuine experiences of community are beautiful, indeed. When we experience a group of friends, family, neighbors, or co-workers who care for one another, give and receive, extend grace and welcome, we know we’re in the presence of something to be savored. Psalm 133 uses some ancient images for these experiences – oil on the head and dew on the mountain. A quart of Pennzoil flowing down your hair and neck may not sound like a blessing, but in the ancient culture scented olive oil was a means of cleansing, moisturizing, and giving a good smell. It was refreshing, renewing, and pleasing: lotion on chapped hands, a good cup of coffee on a cold winter’s day.

Just about everybody is pro-community. It’s such a buzz word that some think the word itself has lost its meaning and can be avoided. Still, there are communities of every stripe and flavor, from the very thick to the very thin. When community is right, when it is “good and pleasant,” there’s nothing like it. We look and even long for it.

But we also know that true community can be a pain. It can be hard to find. It can be difficult to participate in. Being in community means being with people who are self-absorbed, inconsiderate, power-hungry, or desperately needy. Instead of aromatic oil on your head, life together can be like getting gum in your hair. Instead of gentle refreshing dew, it can be a field of slick mud where you spin your tires.

Cultural trends suggest that in North America, while we talk a lot about community, we experience fairly little of it. In Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Harvard sociologist Robert Putnam outlines some of the statistical trends. The title of the book comes from a study that showed that from 1980 to 1993, the number of individuals who bowled in American went up by 10%. But in that same timeframe, bowling in leagues declined by 40%. More and more, people were bowling alone.

That’s really only significant if you’re a bowler (or own a bowling alley). But here are some of the broader trends. Over the last 25 years, family dinners have declined by 43%. Having friends over has dropped 35%. Church attendance has only dropped by 10%, but participation in events outside of services has dropped 50%. More than just bowling, people are living more and more isolated, trying to fill the gaps with social media that tend to offer more community than they’re capable of delivering. Putnam suggest that this results in a lack of something very real if intangible, something he calls “social capital,” a trust, reciprocity, cooperation, and connection that enables so much that is good.

To be Christian is to be called into community with others who are Christian. And last fall I had the opportunity to preach through a sermon series at our church exploring the foundations of Christian community, the practices which sustain community and the forces that undermine it. I drew especially from Christine Pohl’s book, Living Into Community: Cultivating Practices That Sustain Us. Pohl both evokes the good possibilities of community, but also explores attendant practices that make it possible. Following her lead, we explored these four: thankfulness, faithfulness, truthfulness, and hospitality. We spent two weeks on each of these four, sinking the roots of our thinking into Scripture and Christian wisdom.

But at the start, we began with this passage Bonhoeffer’s points to. And while there are many kinds of community, he emphasizes that we begin by recognizing Christian community not as something we seek, or dream up, or manufacture, but as a gift. Christ is given to us together, and thereby we are given to one another. So he adds: “‘Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity’ – this is the Scripture’s praise of life together under the Word. But now we can rightly interpret the words ‘in unity’ and say, ‘for brethren to dwell together through Christ.’ For Jesus Christ is our unity. ‘He is our peace.’ Through him alone do we have access to one another, and fellowship with one another.”

Thankfulness, Faithfulness, Truthfulness, and Hospitality, then, are the fitting habits and practices for receiving and participating in God’s good gifts of community in Christ.

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Join your local forum!

Posted by on March 12, 2014

For some time, now, friends in the Grand Rapids area have been asking for the opportunity to join one of our forums. So far, we’ve been primarily focused on building partners from coast to coast, but this spring, we’re bringing forums home.

Please consider joining us for one of two local events:

March 24: A one-evening “Listening Forum”

This evening focuses on some of the topics that you feel need a little more “airtime” in the church. This will be a safe space for you to raise questions, talk about matters that concern you, and join us in considering how we might work for greater unity in the body of Christ.

May 1, 8, 15, 22: A four-part “Forum Series”

Each Thursday evening between May Day and Memorial Day, we’ll gather to discuss a difficult issue. We at TCF believe that divisive, painful topics actually provide fertile ground for spiritual and communal growth, and this month is your opportunity to join us in this experiment. We are looking to build a group with as much “difference” as we can find, so please join us if you’re old or young, male or female, right or left. We trust that Christ holds us all together!

We’re excited to be doing this work in our own backyard, and we hope that you’ll take the time to join us for either or both of these events! If you have any questions, please contact Lori Wilson, Director of Community Programs, or Jeanna Morrison, Administrative Assistant.

 

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What is The Colossian Forum?

Posted by on March 7, 2014

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…It is not a forum for apologetics – a discourse that all too often brings division to the body of Christ, and in so doing, fails to convince the skeptic. TCF is, though, a place of hospitality where we lessen tensions while seeking the unity of all things in Christ.

…It is not a site in which to satisfy a need for certainty. Rather, TCF works to help deepen faith, build community, and expand knowledge by engaging Christians in the educational mission of the church and through its grounding in the assurance that in Christ, all things hold together.

…It is not a think-tank to solve all the issues that arise at the intersection of the constantly changing spaces of contemporary science and the confession of the historic Christian faith; it is, though, a place in which we can engage such issues faithfully, as we are formed through worship and the spiritual disciplines to which the communion of saints gives witness.

We do this work so that together, we might be transformed into the image of Christ, and so witness to the unity of God’s church.

 

This post is excerpted from an article contributed by friend of TCF John Wright. You can read the full article here.

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