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Colossian Blog
April 15, 2019 | Michael Gulker

Gathering: Accepting God’s Intimate Invitation

We’re losing our ability to gather as Christians. In our polarized culture of contempt, rather than gathering in person, in unity, and around our faith, we do so in echo chambers along racial, socio-economic, and political lines. And from our preferred news and social media outlets, we’re continually bombarded by messages—both subtle and overt—that compel us to fight for our side and to isolate ourselves from opposing views, making it easy to compromise our morals and our faith in order to win.

Personally, I experience this daily. I have to fight the temptation every morning to check my news feed first thing rather than rest in God’s word. I feel a constant pull to see if my people won—a pull to feed my addictions to those ideologues whose views align with mine. But when I take a moment to remember God’s intimate invitation to gather—around his word and with others outside my echo chambers—it changes the tone for my day.

This year, The Colossian Forum is exploring the nuances of gathering, including illuminating our struggles with it and how we can overcome the obstacles that prevent us from deepening our relationships with our brothers and sisters in Christ who look, sound, and vote differently from us.    

Gathering in the name of Jesus rather than in the name of our favorite media outlet starts us on a firm path to participate in God’s love when we disagree. While we are free to choose Fox News or CNN instead, there is a high price when we do. The missed opportunity may seem imperceptible in the moment, but over time, we lose our ability to gather in Jesus’ name. And when that happens, we lose our way. We lose the chance to participate in God’s reconciling narrative in the world. We lose our ability to imagine how our lives intersect with God’s and how God has given us each other as gifts to learn to love as he loves, even if it’s costly. And unless we gather a variety of voices—male and female, young and old, black and white and everything in between—we miss out on the multiplicity of gifts that reflect the multifaceted nature of God’s infinite glory.

Accepting God’s invitation gives us the opportunity to participate in a different news story, and—for once—it’s Good News. It allows us to uncover the story of God and live more fully into it—into the conflicts and into the complicated but rich joy of our shared life together. It’s when we gather amidst the messy realities of our communal life—and keep gathering—that we find ourselves participating in God’s self-giving love in and to the world.

Every time we assemble in the name of Jesus, we’re reminded of who we are and where we’re headed. It grounds us in our shared faith. We’re reconstituted from being creatures of the left or the right into being part of the new creation—the people of God. When we gather in our brokenness, the Spirit transforms us. And when we gather in our difference, yet as one in our worship of God, the more deeply we experience and reflect Christ.

We may be susceptible to adopting the trappings of other identities that have been pushed on us, but our primary goal as Christians is to gather as the people of God. Instead of engaging, as the wider culture does, primarily as members of the left or the right, let’s engage first and foremost as members of the body of Christ, people created in the image of God and expecting to find the image of God in the other.

If we do this, if we follow Jesus when we gather, especially with those with whom we disagree, new creation bursts forth. And instead of running from the church when conflicts emerge, people will run to it—drawn by the beauty of Christ made manifest in our imperfect but persistent life together. This is our opportunity. And it is my prayer that you find ways to step into it.

Gathering is at the heart of The Colossian Way, a spiritual discipline that enables Christians to engage conflict and difference as a catalyst for growth in faith and witness. The Colossian Way creates worship-filled spaces for Christ-honoring engagement on the most divisive topics.

Gathering is also part of the theme for our 2019 Annual Conference. We believe that in order to live together well in ways that reflect the beauty of Christ, we need both to recognize our diminished view of gathering and to work toward a fuller experience of gathering—filled with grace and truth. We invite you to join us and others seeking a community committed to love of God and neighbor. It is our hope that this event will provide you the space and encouragement to accept God’s intimate invitation.

We also invite you to share your experiences with gathering, whether negative or positive. Please visit colossianforum.org/stories to do so.

Suggested Posts
Shifting the Goal from Winning to Worship: Six Practices to Reorient Yourself to God’s Kingdom
August 1, 2019 | Michael Gulker
Shifting the Goal from Winning to Worship: Six Practices to Reorient Yourself to God’s Kingdom
Each day, we are bombarded by headlines like these: Gospel sing-along in Tennessee faces Confederate controversy after photos surface online Savior no more? Distraught Dems turn on Mueller after stumbling hearing Report doesn't exonerate Trump, Mueller testifies, and he could be charged after leaving office Evangelical denomination expels entire congregation over LGBT policy These stories compete for our allegiance and tempt us to believe in a reality where winning is everything—even if it destroys lives and our most precious relationships. Is this the story we confess? I’m skeptical. As Christians, our story is of a world created by a good, giving, and forgiving God – a world deeply marred by the ugliness of sin but being redeemed even more beautifully by the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. To which story will we be faithful? This is our most critical, daily choice. Why? Because our movements—our behaviors and practices—will naturally align with that story. Which story do your practices reflect? I confess mine often reflect the city of humanity more than the city of God. For instance, my watching and meditating on the news instead of on the word of God reveals that what I, in practice, believe to be relevant and important is what the news tells me. And it usually tells me the “other” side is evil and uneducated and that I am righteous and intelligent. Like it or not, the storylines and practices we inhabit both reveal and inform what we value, and they dictate how we negotiate our life together. So, how can we reorient our lives toward God’s kingdom? The only way out of the seductive cultural narrative back into God’s life is through an intentional reappropriation of the Christian story and its practices. Just as a gardener prepares the ground for the seed to grow, Christian practices prepare the ground for the Spirit’s work. By intentionally engaging the practices that flow out of the story, we can recuperate our ability to live into Christ’s example of self-giving love and restore our theological imagination the world so desperately needs. Whether it’s reading Scripture over morning coffee, praying throughout the day, or biting our tongues when we’re tempted speak contemptuously toward one of God’s beloved children, if we intentionally align our practices with God’s kingdom, we avoid falling into practices that fuel our divisiveness and erode our love for God and one other. I invite you to try these six formative practices to help you retain or regain that love and shift your goal from winning toward worship. The world—the church and the broader culture—needs us to be a reconciled and reconciling people. They need us to embody the good news of Christ’s victory over death. We need to demonstrate that we don’t need to win, because he’s already won. Again, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5, Christians have been given the ministry of reconciliation. And there is nothing more hopeful, relevant, or beautiful in our polarized age than reconciliation. This moment of ugly division is our moment—and our opportunity—to display the beauty of Christ. I look forward to exploring that opportunity with you, either at our Annual Conference, Sept. 12-14 at The Prince Conference Center in Grand Rapids, or any weekday at our office for morning prayer.   Peace of Christ, Michael Please join us in giving thanks for: Those who attended our Colossian Way Leader Training in May. We are blessed by their contributions and applaud their passion for helping their faith communities become a place of reconciliation. Fruitful engagement within our five Political Talk pilot groups. Pilot group participants were generous with their time, hearts, and ideas. Their feedback will be instrumental as we finalize the curriculum, which we anticipate launching in January 2020. Our newest team member, Emily Stroble. Emily is the Development and Communications Officer and brings with her rich knowledge and experience that will help us further our mission. New board members Mycal Brickhouse and Gene Miyamoto. Their diverse expertise, insights, and backgrounds are a gift to us. A growing relationship with community leader Tru Pettigrew and former Cary, NC police chief Tony Godwin, which arose from our participation in a Duke Divinity School event. These courageous men entered into a conversation around racial tensions in their community following the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. They will share their story of relationship across difference at a community event in September, Continuing the Conversation: Listen, Learn and Love across Difference. We invite you to join us. Admission is free, and no registration is required. The generosity and hospitality of First Christian Reformed Church, Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church and True Light Baptist Church, our co-hosts for Continuing the Conversation. The Christian Reformed Church in North America, which soon will be adding The Colossian Forum to its List of Non-Denominational Agencies Approved for Offerings. Organizations on this list have been reviewed and approved by the annual synod of the Christian Reformed Church. Please join us in praying for: Our participation in the Inspire 2019 conference August 1-3 in Windsor, ON. That we will help fortify faith and inspire hope to live into our Christian commitments, even as we disagree. Pastors participating in the Convocation on the Rural Church in Myrtle Beach, SC August 5-7. We pray they will find rich ways of addressing issues that are important for transforming rural churches and communities and sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Open ears, minds, and hearts as TCF President Michael Gulker delivers a presentation on The Colossian Way at Duke Divinity School Alumni Day August 27. A fruitful experience for attendees at our upcoming second Annual Conference. We pray that through plenary speakers, interactive workshops, and networking with other thoughtful Christians, those who come will continue to grow in their understanding of conflict and how our approach to it can honor God and increase their capacity to love one another. A meaningful opportunity for change in our community through the event, Continuing the Conversation: Listen, Learn and Love across Difference. TCF Chief Programming and Innovation Officer Rob Barrett and our partners, who are doing the delicate work of revising our Political Talk curriculum. We pray that God would guide their thoughts and words so the curriculum will be a blessing and helpful tool to faith communities worldwide. Chris De Vos, TCF’s VP of Partnerships and Care, as he prepares to offer a conflict as opportunity workshop with the board of a private family foundation later this year. Our efforts to secure funding to expand The Colossian Way to Kenya and China. We have identified gracious partners, secured commitments, and have capacity to support this project but lack the financial resources to bring it to fruition.
He Wanted to Justify Himself
July 31, 2019 | Emily Stroble
He Wanted to Justify Himself
“There are no stupid questions.” Supposedly. But I’ve definitely humiliated myself by asking them. It feels awful, doesn’t it? We so prize intelligence that the vulnerability of being seen as wrong or foolish hits us right in the dignity.  In those moments, I find The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) is a relatable, comforting passage for me and my bruised ego; and I recently discovered something new in the familiar story.  The story goes: An expert in the law stands up out of the crowd Jesus is teaching. “Teacher,” he says, as everyone turns to look at him, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” This is the big question. A subject of deep philosophical thought. This Jesus was known to be something of a radical. Would he contradict scripture? Would he demand some great act of devotion? Would he say there was no such thing as eternal life at all? I imagine the scholar was ready to argue with his references and his examples. Or maybe he was ready to prove his righteous fervor by adopting whatever Jesus said, regardless of risk or cost. “What does the law say?” Jesus asks. Is this a trick question? Everyone knows the answer, especially the expert in the law. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live,” says Jesus simply. Scripture says the scholar “Wanted to justify himself…” Wouldn’t you? All these people had just watched this scholar ask an old question and receive the obvious answer. Do they think he is uneducated? Or, perhaps worse, stupid? Jesus doesn’t seem impressed with this man’s credentials and “deep questions.” So, the scholar feels he has to say something to salvage his dignity.  “Who is my neighbor?” He blurts out. Jesus responds with the familiar story of The Good Samaritan: A man was attacked on the road by robbers and left for dead. A priest and a Levite walk by without helping, but a Samaritan—a person Israelites thought sinful, sacrilegious, stupid—stops. He tends the filthy, bleeding man, carries him to an inn, pays for his care.  “Who is the man’s neighbor?” Jesus asks the scholar. “The one who showed mercy to him,” the scholar replies. In this moment, Jesus shows the scholar such mercy. He doesn’t shame him or demand eloquent, scholarly argument—because this conversation is about eternal life, not about testing or proving this man’s intelligence. The message we usually take from this story to love our neighbors. But I had never noticed that little sentence, “He wanted to justify himself,” before. Maybe the meaning in our Christian lives and witness goes beyond our usual interpretation. We’ve probably all been told that the best Christian witness is to love everyone—friend, neighbor, and enemy. It’s the “preach the gospel, use words if necessary” approach. We can read the Good Samaritan as an example of that, but I wonder if our acts of love sometimes become, not witnesses to God’s grace, but a declaration of, “Look how holy I am! I can love even you.” When Jesus asks, “Who is the man’s neighbor?”, he is echoing the expert’s question of “Who is my neighbor?” The answer is “the one who showed him mercy.” Our neighbors are not just those we show mercy to, but those who show mercy to us. The Samaritan, in a modern setting, would be the activist for the opposite political party, or the pastor from that denomination, the one so wrong about God it verges on heresy. It is a hard and wondrous thing to love people who hate us and work to bind up their wounds; it is a whole other miracle to be the beaten one and accept mercy from our “enemy.” Needing mercy, not having the right answer, admitting hurt are places of weakness. What would it look like to give up our need to justify our arguments and instead trust that our brothers and sisters in Christ, regardless of how deep our disagreements, sincerely desired our healing? What if we sincerely desired theirs? If we did, our conflicts would certainly be radically different from the arguments we see in the world today. It comes down to the purpose of our conversations and the attitude of our hearts. If we want to be right and justify ourselves, we will have to be on our guard with everyone; if what we really want is eternal life, we can receive however many foolish questions and acts of mercy it takes to get us there.

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