Colossian Blog

Displaying all posts by Michael Gulker.
The Practice of Praying for Our Enemies
September 6, 2017 | Michael Gulker
The Practice of Praying for Our Enemies
We’re shifting into a new season. After Labor Day, the rhythms of autumn take hold: vacations are over, school is back in session, church activities kick off, traffic snarls resume, and the busyness continues. On top of it all, we continue to face an onslaught of despairing headlines, from the racial unrest in Charlottesville, to the catastrophic flooding in Texas, and now the changes to DACA. I’m sure I’m not the only one a bit anxious and overwhelmed as we face the cadence of fall. It’s easy to get scattered and fall away from the practices and structures that support our souls. Here’s a suggestion: don’t. That’s an aspirational exhortation. I regularly fall off the wagon this time of year, and it’s usually not until I and everyone around me is completely miserable that I finally cry out for help. I simply don’t do well without regular rhythms of prayer, journaling, and scriptural meditation. As embodied creatures, we are deeply affected by the structures and activities that fill our lives. It’s a fairy tale to think otherwise. One of the practices that sustains me is reading the lectionary. While only one of the churches I attend follows the lectionary (I’m Reformed-Anabaptist, or Anabaptist-Reformed, and I love both my churches too much to give up either!), I am regularly blessed by attending to the cycle of Christ’s life throughout the year. Romans 12:9-21 is particularly apt this week (I encourage you to read it if you haven’t recently). Paul, sounding quite a bit like Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, encourages us to “hold fast what is good,” and “persevere in prayer,” and, so far as we are able, “live peaceably with all.” Paul tops it off with a reminder that vengeance is the Lord’s and our responsibility is (yes, you guessed it) enemy love. Not my favorite activity, which, I’m guessing, is why Paul reminds me of it. Enemy love rarely makes our top ten list of desirable Christian activities, but perhaps it ought to, especially given our ridiculously polarized society. In times when our attention, energy, and emotions are spread widely and thinly, it’s imperative we remember to focus on loving God and loving our neighbor—and, oh yeah, our enemies too. My prayer and challenge for us this month is to integrate praying for our enemies into our new rhythms of the season. Of course, this isn’t possible on our own. We need to continue to pray together that the Holy Spirit would do a new thing in us, and that Christ’s peace would reign for the world to see. And today, we can start with our enemies.
What Kind of People Does Endless Doing Create Us to Be?
August 8, 2017 | Michael Gulker
What Kind of People Does Endless Doing Create Us to Be?
Our society imagines itself as one of doing, accomplishment, and endless potential. Our work usually centers on achievement, performance, and mastering the next set of skills. Our families revolve around myriad activities and school structures (which train our children for the workplace). Our churches constantly look for the next new thing—a goal, an outreach, a youth program, a worship leader—that will help us grow the kingdom of God. Our personal lives can seem like an endless merry-go-round of multi-tasking, anxiety, and thinking about the next thing. If we believe our spiritual journey is somehow exempt from these constant formative pressures, we are badly mistaken. Take a moment to reflect. Sabbath rest seems mythical, easily co-opted for another day of task completion. In the endless pursuit of what might be, who’s got time to stop and give thanks for what already IS? As you pray through this, I’d invite you to stop and ponder, “What kind of people does this endless doing make us to be? Spiritual formation into the image of Christ is a core commitment of The Colossian Forum because everything we do forms us. Spiritual formation just IS. Everything we do either makes us Christ-like or less like Christ. The things we participate in, see, experience, and even avoid shape and form our spirits. Especially in the middle of messy conflict, where our default is to DO: make the dazzling argument, and efficiently prove to everyone that my way is the best way so we can get on to the next thing. Perform, argue, impress, DO. What would conflict look like if, instead of that human, self-focused doing, we were grounded in practices of Christ-focused being? Perhaps we must first BE in the presence of Christ, if we’re going to be present to one another. Truthfully, given my own formation in a performance-oriented culture, this is not my default behavior. I’m usually crafting the perfect zinger in my head long before my conversation partner is finished speaking. But if I’m not called simply to win the argument, what am I supposed to say or even pray? Too often, I simply don’t know. Thankfully, Scripture shows us we’re not alone in this not knowing. Paul seems to take it for granted when he says, “likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26). This passage comes right before Romans 9-11, Paul’s largely failed attempt to understand how God’s promises to the Jews are still valid even as they reject the risen Lord. It’s a dilemma we’re still befuddled by 2,000 years later. Unresolved conflict is part of the mystery of faith, but what’s not a mystery is God’s faithfulness to us, already, now, without our having to DO anything other than respond in joy to what IS. Pray for us, for yourselves, for the wider church, as we seek to be people of joy in the midst of conflict. Thank you for being on this journey with us. This post is excerpted from our August prayer letter. To receive the prayer letter in your inbox, click on the button below. Subscribe! To the monthly prayer letter.
Lessons in Transparency
July 12, 2017 | Michael Gulker
Lessons in Transparency
Dear Friends, Recently, I’ve been reading Being Disciples: Essentials of the Christian Life, by Rowan Williams. I was immediately struck by Williams’ introductory remarks that pursuing deeper Christian commitment isn’t done by reading books. Rather, it is accomplished “by the daily effort to live in a way that allows Jesus Christ to come through in our lives; we are caught up in the task of showing that what we say is credible.” We serve as effective disciples when we are “transparent to Christ” in our thoughts, speech, and actions. According to Williams, our task is to live in a way that dispels the murkiness obscuring Christ’s presence; thus, empowering us to grow in love of God and neighbor. By being transparent to Christ across time, we slowly become people who live as “credible” disciples—literally giving credence to our words. Our sidesteps and missteps as much as our successes give us daily opportunities to display Christ as his forgiveness and humility permeate our life together. Dave Odom, executive director of Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, visited us a few weeks ago to facilitate a discussion on TCF’s work and culture. One of our big “a-ha” moments of painful transparency came when he observed that some of our staff (myself included) work as if our mission is a sprint instead of a marathon; this is despite the fact that we know our vision of a Christian community that acts like Christ, especially in the face of conflict, will not be accomplished in a life time. Although we are encouraged daily by stories of transformation, ours is a marathon vision that requires a measured and disciplined pace. When we view our work as a sprint, failing to take time to care for one another and for our partners, we shortcut the “daily effort to live in a way that allows Jesus Christ to come through in our lives.” By failing to care for and appreciate each other in our daily tasks, our mission loses its credibility as our tasks become crass transactions and we lose sight of our longing for God-empowered transformation. Dave challenged us to live into our own mission, to add a few life-giving rhythms to help us sustain our marathon mission of equipping leaders to transform polarizing cultural conflicts into opportunities for spiritual growth and witness. He’s absolutely right. In this way, we model the honesty and consistency we’re calling our Colossian Way group leaders to embody. Our words gain credibility when we practice the rhythm of Godly thinking, speech, and action—including confession and forgiveness—all within a context of worship. Through this manner of living together, trust grows and the opportunity of engaging one another across our differences is made possible in increasingly beautiful ways. Through your faithful prayers and participation with us in this work, you are a vital member of this community of practice—a community that is, according to Williams, “growing in the life that Jesus shares with us, so that we can become signs of life and hope in our world.” I am deeply grateful for your partnership, and I pray that you receive this letter as an act of transparency and a credible gift of Christ’s grace. This post is excerpted from our July prayer letter. To receive the prayer letter in your inbox, click on the button below. Subscribe! To the monthly prayer letter.
Finding the Next Faithful Step
June 7, 2017 | Michael Gulker
Finding the Next Faithful Step
Dear Friends, In our journey together into the heart of church conflict, many of you have noted that The Colossian Forum doesn’t provide a set of “answers” regarding divisive issues, but challenges Christians to practice trusting that all things already hold together in Christ. If we live out of this trust, seeking to hold truth and love together amidst our differences, the Holy Spirit will act to bring forth something new, lead us into all truth, and provide the vision for the next step of faithfulness. At TCF, we have the honor of seeing God act in amazing ways, creating friendships across political and ideological divides that are nothing short of miraculous. Yet delight across difference doesn’t do away with the fact that we still have to make decisions about how we’re going to live together. This means, according to the world’s narrative, there will be winners and losers. When a gay couple asks to be married in a specific church, there is either a “yes” or a “no,” regardless of how deep the love and delight we’ve discovered in others with whom we disagree. So how do we make decisions as churches and institutions while still disagreeing? How do we elevate love of God and love of neighbor when there are clear winners and losers? Well, since we don’t have the answer to this question, it’s one more occasion to practice holding truth and love together, praying the Holy Spirit would provide the vision for the next step of faithfulness. And we’ve been praying for this a long time. One of our Colossian Way participants is a key leader in her church and when confronted with this either-or, winner-loser question, she responded in a surprising and Spirit-creative way. She noted that she’d been living as the “loser” in her church for over 20 years, but remained committed both to the church and to the people who disagreed with her. She didn’t give up what she believed. She didn’t walk away. And she doesn’t want those who disagree with her to give up and walk away either. Instead she wants them to continue to live committed to corporate faithfulness with her and the church for another 20 years. Maybe, just maybe, through their continued life together, the Spirit will lead them more deeply into truth. The future is uncertain. But what seems more certain is that if she had left 20 years ago, or if those on the opposite side of the issue leave now, the possibility for the Spirit to act in their midst is diminished. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we can walk The Colossian Way. We can live together. We can experience a foretaste of heavenly communion on earth. But on this side of the second coming, there are going to be times when, at least in the world’s frame, there are winners and losers. There will be pain. There will be loss. There will be sacrifice. Can we take that on? Can we live out of Christ’s victory that has not yet fully come? Can we show the world a better frame—a more interesting story? How might we act differently? How might we stick together in these moments in new and interesting ways? A lot of us are facing these realities right now in our churches and institutions. It’s tough, gut-wrenching work. Here at TCF, we’re praying for you as you discern the next faithful step in “making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). The Holy Spirit will act if we come open-handed, recognizing our need for the Spirit’s action. But will we have eyes to see it when it happens? Will we have the courage to follow the Spirit’s lead? We join you in praying for God to move and act as the church discerns the next faithful step in our current dilemmas. This post is excerpted from our June prayer letter. To receive the prayer letter in your inbox, click on the button below. Subscribe! To the monthly prayer letter.
Global Reflections on Loneliness
May 3, 2017 | Michael Gulker
Global Reflections on Loneliness
Dear Friends, A humbling and rewarding aspect of writing and sending these prayer letters each month is hearing your feedback. Last month’s letter really struck a chord with many of you, as I shared about the underlying issue of loneliness that rose to the surface during a recent experience with The Colossian Way. A lot of our fear of conflict is rooted in our fear of loneliness. Interestingly, we also see that conflict can create and reinforce loneliness. In conflict, many of us tend to either withdraw from relationships and situations thereby becoming isolated, or fight with others who have different perspectives resulting in alienation and separation. One of the responses I received to last month’s prayer letter framed this matter through a global lens. Sandra Costen Kunz, a friend of TCF, recently taught Christian Education at Trinity Theological Seminary in Ghana, West Africa. Here are her international reflections on loneliness: It’s incredibly refreshing to have you name one of the primary “demons” driving the departures from “traditional sexual morality” in Ghana and the U.S.: fear of loneliness. It’s not just departures from that “traditional sexual morality” that are becoming the norm in Ghana and the U.S. now, but also departures from traditional understandings of the ties that bind children, adults, and the elderly together in long-term extended family networks through day-to-day relating, face-to-face time, and mutual care. In both the United States and Ghana, fear of loneliness also seems to be driving the frantic tone of both the ecclesiastical and political contentiousness around the following issues: How people form and fund household economies Where sexual activity fits into household economies How much face-to-face time the young and elderly (who don’t earn wages) enjoy with relatives who do earn wages How our society will support, via tax cuts, various configurations of household economies Naming the fear of loneliness as the root of much of the suffering driving ecclesiastical contentiousness reminded me of the powerful conversations that took place in my youth ministry courses in Ghana. My deeply thoughtful students connected the fear of loneliness with many kinds of suffering Ghanaian youth are experiencing due to changes in economic and sexual norms in that nation. We’re grateful for partners and friends, like Sandra, who help us stay connected with our deep theological core and challenge us to reframe and broaden our vision of a more beautiful church centered on the love of God and love of neighbor. This post is excerpted from our May prayer letter. To receive the prayer letter in your inbox, click on the button below. Subscribe! To the monthly prayer letter.
Celebrating God's Faithfulness in 2016
April 12, 2017 | Michael Gulker
Celebrating God's Faithfulness in 2016
God has provided abundantly for The Colossian Forum this year. He has built, grown, and blessed it. It belongs to him. We are thankful and humbled by your support in 2016 as we solidified the foundation for a successful launch of The Colossian Way—an intergenerational, small group journey that gathers Christians together in messy situations for the sake of discipleship. This experience cultivates Christian virtues, helping participants turn conflicts into opportunities for witness, spiritual growth, and transformation. You have been pioneers and visionaries with us as God does a new, transformative thing in the midst of his people! Here are a few highlights from 2016: Successfully piloted The Colossian Way in communities across the country We designed The Colossian Way experience to be more than curricula providing information on divisive topics. It’s also meant to be a formational tool equipping leaders to transform challenging issues into opportunities for deep discipleship and fellowship in an age of increasing polarization and fragmentation. This year, 10 Christian communities participated in a pilot of The Colossian Way. The communities comprised settings as diverse as churches, high schools, and colleges from Michigan to Colorado to Pennsylvania. Participants ranged in age from 15-85, and were as diverse ideologically as they were generationally. Throughout The Colossian Way experience, we received a regular stream of encouraging stories. One teenage girl, who began The Colossian Way journey feeling only marginally connected to her church, ended with a clear sense that “these are my people!” Another young man commented after the experience, “I don’t have any place in my life to talk seriously about divisive issues. The last place I expected it to happen was at my church! When are we going to do this again?” People, young and old alike, reported feeling called out of the fear and loneliness created by polarization into fellowship with one another and with God. Through the exceptional support and guidance of their leaders and coaches, believers captured the vision of The Colossian Way and carried it forward in their communities. Developed a 3-year strategic plan We spent a significant amount of time in prayer and discernment during the year laying out a 3-year strategic plan for The Colossian Forum, which our Board of Directors approved in the fall. The plan was a huge step forward in solidifying our mission, vision, and goals for the national launch of The Colossian Way. It also marked a major turning point in moving us from researching how The Colossian Way “works” to inviting believers across the country to join us on the journey. By equipping Christian communities to take on TCF’s transformational work, we set in motion the opportunity for an increasing number of believers to experience the dazzling truth that, even in the midst of conflict, “all things hold together in Christ” (Colossians 1:17). We look forward to even more stories of connection and growth as The Colossian Way expands and is adopted by Christian communities across the country. Established a new look, new location, and three new websites During the year, we unveiled a new logo for The Colossian Forum as well as a new tagline (Hope in Practice). Our original logo and tagline reflected an emphasis on faith and science topics while our new look highlights our broader mission and vision of inviting communities to transform a wide-range of culturally divisive issues into opportunities for discipleship and witness. In November, we moved to a new office space on the west side of Grand Rapids which provides additional room for staff expansion and collaborative working. The larger facility also allows more people to participate in gatherings and trainings for The Colossian Way. We also launched three new websites in 2016 that support our work: ColossianWay.org:Showcases The Colossian Way experience and shares the stories of our pilot groups. (Launched January 2016) TeachFASTly.com:Equips teachers to foster discipleship among students specifically at the intersection of faith and science. (Launched September 2016) ColossianForum.org:Highlights our core mission of equipping leaders to transform polarizing cultural conflict into opportunities for spiritual growth and witness. It also invites visitors to explore our current projects, upcoming events, our blog, and more about our staff and mission. (Launched October 2016) I am deeply grateful for all of you. It’s a joy to know that you are breaking new ground with us, praying for us, and sharing in this innovative work of proclaiming the good news of Christ’s peace afresh to this hurting and fragmented world. I look forward to the year ahead as we see what God has planned for The Colossian Forum and our small role in his kingdom work. Thanks be to God! Read more from our 2016 Annual Report.