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Our Blog
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.
Suggested Posts
(Gather)-Practice-Witness
March 18, 2020 | Chris De Vos
(Gather)-Practice-Witness
What an odd time it is for churches. Our routine practices have been suspended, while our suspicions, anxiety, paranoia, and fear reach unprecedented proportions. As vanguard tulips poke their courageous leaves through the Michigan winter soil, an insidious coronavirus threatens our ability to gather, a central Christian practice at The Colossian Forum. We may not be able to gather for our daily 9 a.m. prayer practice in person, but as you can see in this picture, we did our best this morning and will continue to pray together via video chat! The interruption in our routines – our rituals – is unsettling. Even though the tulips will still blossom in their time, it feels like nature itself has been disrupted - families postponing spring break trips, St. Patrick’s Day socially distanced, and even Easter worship services up in the air! Widespread uncertainty and decisions about the best response to the crisis are causing tension in many circles. It is easy to become overwhelmed in these tumultuous times. But this is also a witnessing time—a time to show who we are as Christians and what we are made of. At The Colossian Forum, we are fond of saying “conflict is an opportunity for spiritual growth and witness.” Through The Colossian Way small groups, we help Christians prepare for conflicts and difficult, anxious times, and we work and witness in the midst of these conflicts by remembering who we are in Christ. We practice loving one another and God as we lean into whatever challenge we face together. After all, conflicts arise from collisions between our fears and loves. Our fears disrupt, distract, confuse, and subvert our attempts to love God and one another. That’s what makes the faithful commitment to love—along with Christian practices like continued prayer and worship—so difficult. Fear is loud, it comes naturally, it demands our attention, and it will dictate our actions if we let it. The Colossian Way aims at three goals: gather Christians together, practice loving God and one another while engaging a difficult challenge, and witness the body of Christ built up. In this particular moment, we may have to innovate on the “gather” piece—as Christians have for centuries before us under other forms of separation. But we can still practice and witness. Practicing love for God and one another while engaging this pandemic challenge illuminates places where we can exercise all of our Christian muscles. Phone calls to those who are shut-in, food deliveries, and school lunch program and financial donations all seem like low-hanging spiritual fruit for us. And social isolation gives us a wonderful opportunity to continue personal practices that foster spiritual growth and equip us to embody the hope and light that so many need right now. Discipleship is about living faithful lives right in the middle of all those fears, even the most daunting ones. That’s where the cross stands—in the middle of crushing fears. We are, after all, followers of Jesus, and we are infused with his very character. We are called to the way of the cross—to a life of faithful love amid fear. Perhaps the coronavirus threat happening during Lent is fortuitous. It gives us the opportunity to practice living the way Jesus did, not despite our conflicts, but thanks to them. This is precisely the best time to follow him into this “passionate” moment, in which a worldwide disease is threatening to sicken and kill many and drive us apart in the process. For in this odd time of pandemic worry, Holy Week has not been canceled! We can still move through the acclamation of Palm/Passion Sunday to the acrimony of Good Friday, and in so moving, confess how easy it is to fall asleep, away, and into denial in the face of powerful forces that threaten our lives. Let us leave you with a challenge. At the end of every Colossian Way session, we offer to one another and to God words of praise, lament, and hope. Realizing that every gathering is incomplete until we’re in the Kingdom of God, we lift up any words of praise for what we see in ourselves and the world, words of lament for what is wrong or missing, and words of hope for God to bring renewal. As you go about these days, we invite you to join us and offer your own words of praise, lament, and hope. Please email them to me at cdevos@colossianforum.org, or share them on social media using #TCFpraise, #TCFlament, or #TCFhope. And let us remember that Jesus is faithful, that God raised him from the dead, and that we are witnesses of these things by the Holy Spirit’s power. This may be an odd time for us and presents a challenge to who we know we are (Christ’s) and what we have to offer a world consumed by tension, fear, and worry. It is also a shining moment for us to model a faithful pathway through this moment and to live into the words of Hebrews 12: Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.
Politics in the Cities of God and Man - A Guide to Dual Citizenship
March 2, 2020 | Michael Gulker
Politics in the Cities of God and Man - A Guide to Dual Citizenship
Mike is a pastor. The church he’s served for over 16 years sits downtown, a traditional steeple among the skyscrapers. Recently, Mike told us he’s seen a change in his congregation. “During my time as a pastor, my prayers haven’t changed,” he said. “However, recently, I’ve been getting people suggesting that those prayers have become political.” So what makes a prayer political? Aren’t we called to pray for our world, our leaders, our communities, and God’s will on earth? Is a political prayer a bad thing? Navigating the intersection of faith and politics has become increasingly difficult. We claim we don’t want to hear politics from the pulpit while professing that our faith should apply to every area of our life. In reality, we often allow our politics to overrule our faith. All too eager to capitalize on this, pundits on the right and left work to shape our desire (their business model depends upon it). They tell us how to vote, how to act. We get caught up in the political dramas that surround us, allowing FOX or CNN to guide our thinking, make or break our relationships, and dictate whether we should be hopeful or afraid as we look to the future. The Church is not immune, often dividing along these same fault lines. People who believe the same Gospel come to bitterly opposed conclusions on how to live it out. Christians on both sides can be quick to answer, “Well, what they are doing isn’t the Gospel.” But what we often mean is that what they are doing opposes our political ideology – even though it might be dressed up in theological drag. We’re hardly the first Christians to encounter these conflicts. In the fifth century, in his book City of God, Augustine wrestled with the conflict between human and Kingdom politics—alternate ways of being in the world, represented by what he calls the “City of Man” and the “City of God.” His central insight is that these two cities share one geographic space, like two dramas playing out on the same stage, each competing for our attention and allegiance. And each works to win us over by shaping our desires and directing our practices. Today, the ideologies of right and left together make up the City of Man, which offers us the same formative practices – constant media consumption, increasingly polarized thought and rhetoric, the endless fortification of our echo chambers, and the dehumanization of those we fear on the other side. You know what this is like. Haven’t you noticed that once you start watching the news or scrolling through social media, you have an increased appetite for it? Soon, in the City of Man, all we can see around us is conflict and threat, our most cherished loves besieged by the terrifying other. Augustine is clear; there is no room for compromise between the two cities. Instead, The City of God offers more than we imagined—more grace, truth, life, and hope. This is because the City of God is more real than the City of Man, which is passing away, inevitably headed toward destruction as it devours itself.  We are called, not to a life somewhere between, but of one beyond right and left – in a future that is becoming present through our obedience to our King. We are called to make the City of God visible amidst of the City of Man. The Good News of the Gospel shows us how. Jesus calls us to practices for occupying that shared space and for living out the story of God as an alternative to what we find in the endless cycle of bad news. These practices can and will reshape our loves to desire the City of God. For example, Augustine sought to correct his malformed desires by practicing new ways of using his free time. He stopped going to the coliseum because the games trained his desire to love death instead of life. We can make similar, intentional moves. What is our modern-day coliseum? Where are our desires being malformed? To answer that, we should start with basic Christian practices that Jesus gave us. Things like the practice of worship—prayer, singing, spending time alone with our Father, listening for his voice, and perhaps meditating on scripture at least twice as long as we meditate on our newsfeeds. What else can we do? Our new Colossian Way curriculum, Political Talk, is designed to be a starting point—a guide for this dual citizenship, if you will. Will you join us? Learn more and order resources at colossianforum.org/PoliticalTalk.

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