Colossian Blog

Displaying all posts tagged "Prayer".
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.
Why are You Interning Here? Formation.
June 28, 2017 | Trey Tirpak
Why are You Interning Here? Formation.
Information. We love it, don’t we? Just pull out your phone and explore a sea of facts and tales about the universe we inhabit. But navigating this sea of information has become quite a haunting endeavor. For so much of my life, I’ve been driven by the narrative that “if we just get the right facts – the right information – and put it in order, then we can fix things” or “if we just put our minds to the task then we can fix things.” This narrative also has an ultimate source where we get all the right "facts” from: the Bible. The best news about this source is that it’s simple; what we need to know is what the Bible says, plain and simple. There’s a long list of how this narrative is chock-full of truth while at the same time chock-full of misleading, secular/modern belief about the Bible and the God of it, our world, and ourselves. So, like many Christians who are seeking to navigate these seas well, I was asking questions like: What is truth? What is real? What is good? What is beautiful?   But the haunting thing for me is that so many answers to those questions are determined by how I’ve been formed as a person, and so I have to first ask about how to ask methodological questions. Like any discipline, there’s a method (a way) to inquire, investigate, inspect that’s proper, appropriate, and fitting. So, I’ve been finding myself asking questions like “what is faithful discernment?” or “what is the way that I’m going to take to answer these questions?” It’s a good task, but also a hard one, which is how I’ve come to The Colossian Forum. It’s discernment that draws me into The Colossian Forum, faithful discernment. You see, at The Colossian Forum, we know that the work of being a prudent, discerning Christian isn’t merely about gathering all the right information and all the right facts. Rather, it must first and foremost be about formation: who we are and who God is forging us to be. Only then can we truly address, answer, and faithfully discern questions. [embed]https://vimeo.com/47144995[/embed] What I’ve realized so far is that, in my theological journey, formation is what’s been left out of the conversations. The incarnational indwelling of the Spirit and what he is actively doing in my life has not been considered in my conversations or even considered valid. I’ve just been relying on my reasoning and my opinions and my vision of “how things are suppose to be” not even realizing how significantly these things have been formed in me by an outside world or how my disposition totally leaves God out of the picture.  [embed]http://vimeo.com/47144895[/embed] It’s because of realizing that I was my own idol – that it is my reasoning and my intellect and my vision of how things are supposed to be – that I’ve become convinced that I haven’t actually been having Christian, Christ-like conversations, and that I need to start practicing having authentically Christian discourse, especially when it comes to discerning things about the topics that The Colossian Forum engages. So formation is why I am interning here, and why I’ve come to cherish The Colossian Forum. TCF practices faith, hope, and love, not merely thinks about them. So, if you’re wondering what it might mean to step out in faith and discern things, come join the ship that’s trying to navigate these waters. "To be theological is not just about being intellectual. It’s also about our heart. Theology is something that’s not just in my head it’s what I live…” Rev. Wayne Coleman, Millbrook CRC, Grand Rapids, MI –– Born and raised on O'ahu Hawai'i, Trey Tirpak graduated from Calvin College in May 2017 with a B.A. in Religion while minoring in Congregational and Ministry Studies in Community Development and Pastoral Ministry. He is attending Western Theological Seminary in Holland Michigan, and is pursuing a Master of Divinity (MDiv) and Master of Social Work (MSW) while also seeking ordination in the Reformed Church in America (RCA). Trey is interning this summer at The Colossian Forum.
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.
Becoming a People of Truth
February 8, 2017 | Michael Gulker
Becoming a People of Truth
Having spent three days drinking weak hotel coffee, my friend and I are eager for a strong cup of joe. Finding a coffee shop in the airport, we place our orders. While waiting, my friend inquires of the barista her country of origin. The barista smiles tentatively and responds in her rich African accent, “I’m sorry, what did you ask?” My friend asks again, this time with a smile, and she replies, “Ethiopia.” “How long have you been in the U.S.?” “A year,” she responds. “And has it been a good year?” “Mostly, yes,” she says. “Well, thanks for the coffee … and welcome to America.” A small, seemingly meaningless act of kindness in an unkind and uncaring world can be, rightly understood, a remarkable act of defiance—an embodiment and foretaste of the hope we all long for. I wonder if our barista trusted that small kindness. Or if, in the midst of our political situation and the TV news playing behind her head, these questions only register as threats. The next night, back home in my church small group, one member hesitantly offers a prayer for the immigrants caught in limbo. The room goes quiet. Should someone else pray for national security? Have we broken protocol? No one knows the answer, but we all feel the fragmentation of our divided body, right there in our living room. The left fears the right; the right fears the left. Yet both the left and right agree the world would be better off if their team was more firmly in control. Small acts of kindness and glimpses of hope are harder when so much seems to be at stake. How did we get to this point? And where to do we go from here? Recently, theologian Tom Wright shared a talk focused on speaking truth to power (which sounds so noble, but truthfully I’d settle for being able to speak truth to my small group). Fortunately, his talk also captured how we become a people of the truth and how to discover the lies that speak through us. To do that, we have to expose the idolatry that has set up shop in many of our own living rooms. Let me quote Wright, who says it better than most. At the heart of the biblical story: Creation itself is understood as a kind of Temple, a heaven-and-earth duality, where humans function as the “image-bearers” in the cosmic Temple, part of earth yet reflecting the life and love of heaven. This is how creation was designed to function and flourish: under the stewardship of the image-bearers … Called to responsibility and authority within and over the creation, humans have turned their vocation upside down, giving worship and allegiance to forces and powers within creation itself. The name for this is idolatry. The result is slavery and finally death … We humans have thus, by abrogating our own vocation, handed our power and authority to nondivine and nonhuman forces, which have then run rampant, spoiling human lives, ravaging the beautiful creation, and doing their best to turn God’s world into a hell (and hence into a place from which people might want to escape). Wright, N.T (2016). The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus's Crucifixion. New York, NY: HarperOne. I find that hell has invaded my living room. And I’ve opened the door to it by putting the nation (specifically, one political party of the nation) in the place where Christ belongs. I’m guessing I’m not alone. I’d invite us all during this time of fragmentation, anger, and misunderstanding, to pray for clarity about our idolatry, and see if restoring Christ to the center gives us just enough imagination for one small act of kindness—especially in the middle of our living rooms. This post is excerpted from our February prayer letter. To receive the prayer letter in your inbox, click on the button below. Subscribe! To the monthly prayer letter.