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Displaying all posts by Michael Gulker.
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.
Gathering: Accepting God’s Intimate Invitation
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.
Uncovering the Beauty of Christ in a Messy World - A Journey toward Hope
March 15, 2019 | Michael Gulker
Uncovering the Beauty of Christ in a Messy World - A Journey toward Hope
February proved to be an especially painful month, watching so many profound, encumbered church conflicts play out on a global stage. The Catholic Church and the United Methodist Church held global summits on sexual abuse, and faith and sexual orientation, respectively. And the Southern Baptist Convention convened to decide the fate of churches accused of covering up widespread sexual abuse. While the illumination of these issues is essential, the path toward hope and reconciliation for all involved seems dim and rife with deep division. As we pray for all those involved and mourn victims’ sufferings, we also pray that churches around the world can, by God’s grace, get better at engaging these conflicts in ways that reflect Christ. A Community that Acts Christian At The Colossian Forum, it is our deepest desire to remind churches of a rich, beautiful vision of unity in Christ and to foster a community that acts Christian, especially in the face of conflict. I know this is possible. I know because I’ve seen it. This beauty was pervasive — palpable even — at our first public conference, Moving from Fear to Hope: Christian Practices for Polarized Times. We’d hoped the event would create awareness of the gift of conflict as a God-given opportunity for spiritual growth. We also hoped to foster a Community of Practice that would fuel ongoing personal and church culture transformation. But we discovered much more. The enthusiasm and encouragement of our participants revealed an acute, gaping hunger for a more attractive way to live in this fragmented and fearful world. And more than that, we actively shared in the hope-giving wisdom within the Christian tradition which can help us live out that beauty. Christ's Beauty in Ordinary Places Yet, we’re also learning that we can’t always expect beauty to show up in some revolutionary way, because, so often, it’s radically ordinary. It shows up in pedestrian practices — those daily rituals of relating to one another that we tend to take for granted. This is why much of our conference was dedicated to introducing one particular set of very ordinary practices that we call The Colossian Way.  The Colossian Way isn’t rocket science. It’s just our way of engaging conflict as an act of worship instead of an act of war. We do this by reminding ourselves that when we as Christians gather in the name of Jesus, we’re doing something markedly different than the rest of the world. When we gather in Jesus’ name, our primary job isn’t to make sure our side wins—because Jesus has already won. It isn’t to make things come out right in the end—they already have, and will, but not because of us. It isn’t even up to us to make sure that God is glorified. After all, we can’t glorify God unless the Spirit moves among us.  Instead, when we gather in the name of Jesus, our only goal is to practice Jesus’ own way of life in the manner in which we relate to each other. Traditionally, we practice breaking bread together, we practice sharing the cup, we practice hearing his Word — all in remembrance of what Christ has already done for us through his sacrificial love. And because of this, we now have the privilege of doing this for one another. It is in the midst of these practices that we open up a space within ourselves for the Holy Spirit to do a new thing — to transform us, who were divided, into the image of Christ for the sake of the world. Beauty in Transformation I was honored to hear of one such transformation a few years ago from one of our Colossian Way participants. After completing the 10-week journey, a woman found herself caring for her ex-husband’s aging parents because in addition to abandoning her, he also had abandoned them. When her ex-father-in-law became ill, she was there. When he needed Hospice care and eventually passed away, she was there. When her ex-mother-in-law later also became ill and needed care, she was there. One day, her ex-mother-in-law asked her why she chose to care for them. The woman explained that her experience with The Colossian Way had opened up space in her heart to hear the Spirit’s call and to ask the question, “What does love require of me?” Instead of being revengeful and right, she chose to lay down her life and take up selfless love that is reflective of Christ. It is this kind of story that fuels me and leads me to return to the simple, beautiful practices of our faith, especially amidst conflict. A Journey toward Hope God has already given us everything we need to be faithful right in the heart of conflict, and yet (surprise!), we didn’t quite achieve world peace in our single, three-day conference last fall. But we did scratch the surface of an intriguing possibility. Now, we need to practice. Fortunately, no—providentially—for us, our world, our churches, and our families give us all the opportunities we’ll ever need to get that practice! If we begin to live into a set of ordinary practices like The Colossian Way, we join a story started long ago—a story forming within us the right fears and the right hopes, and opening us to the call of the Spirit. But moving into the beauty of Christ right in the heart of conflict isn’t a one-time affair. It’s a journey toward hope.  That’s why we’re entitling this year’s conference—Gather, Practice, Witness: A Journey toward Hope. It will take place September 12-14 at the Prince Conference Center on the Calvin College campus in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Between now and then, we will be thinking, writing, inviting, and crafting workshops along these lines to empower individuals, leaders, pastors, parents, business people, students, and scholars to gather in the name of Jesus, to practice loving each other across difference, and to witness the body of Christ built up and give witness to the deepest desire and reality of the world. Gather, Practice, Witness are at the heart of The Colossian Way. I invite you to join us along this journey toward a better way of living together—a journey toward hope. 
Imagine: Recovering our Desire to Participate in God’s Holy Life
January 29, 2019 | Michael Gulker
Imagine: Recovering our Desire to Participate in God’s Holy Life
We live in exciting times—times when the need for the reconciling power of the gospel is blindingly clear. Christendom is in retreat. The church suffers from a brand problem, rooted in its complicity with a divisive culture that it tacitly reflects. Young people, as well as old, are leaving the faith at an unprecedented rate.[1] Yet, there are pockets of beauty, faithfulness, and hope, as hunger for communion, community, and peace is becoming increasingly pronounced.[2] Pockets of Hope The work of The Colossian Forum (TCF) is privileged to be situated within these pockets of hope—as well as within the tensions among them. We recognize the depth of our society’s polarization and alienation, while at the same time, seeing that, by the grace of the Holy Spirit present in the body of Christ, the solution has already been given and indeed is embedded in the problem itself. Conflict, at its core, arises from differing desires, and those differences are perceived as threatening. Yet, the Christian tradition from Augustine onward has recognized that desire is always desire for communion—with God and one another. If this is the case (and we think it is), then conflict is that same desire for God and one another gone awry. How so? Well, we begin with our confession that humanity is created in the image of the Triune God, whose very life is constituted by self-giving love across three distinct, different persons. The Father gives himself completely to the Son, the Son gives himself back—unto death—to the Father through the Holy Spirit, catching up all creation into the divine and eternal dance of self-giving love and delight. This is ultimately who we are and how the world most truly is. Harnessing Conflict But in a world full of brokenness, hurt, and sin, rather than participating in the divine dance of pouring ourselves out through self-giving, our love has become self-protective and self-serving. Rather than experiencing delight and desire across different persons, there is defensiveness, fear, suspicion, and even violence. Yet the very desire powering conflict (all the energy of our desire gone awry) can, by the healing power of the Holy Spirit, be harnessed for our own redemption and the salvation of the world. The conflicts raging across our society, denominations, churches, and even our families are driven by our deep and abiding desire for communion with God and one another, however distorted that desire has become. And we have, in the words of 2 Peter 1:3, “…been given everything we need for a holy life...” TCF is an organization tasked with the recovery of the language, imagination, and practices that will help open up believers to the Spirit’s power to reshape our desires, moving us away from the fearful and combative desires of the self-protective “flesh” and toward active participation in God’s own holy life of self-giving love, especially in the face of the conflicts that plague our time. Built for Communion To our deep delight, we have found believers and non-believers alike are hungry for this way of being-in-communion-in-the-world. We are made for this. We are ready for this. We are built for communion, and even amidst the intense divisive language we experience in social media and elsewhere, we haven’t forgotten it. Because of this deep longing, and because of the vision and faithfulness of people like you, TCF has had the privilege of being set aside—given the time and space—to walk with believers, churches, leaders, and Christian organizations from divisiveness to discipleship and to the first fruits of reconciliation. Through almost eight years of research, reading, writing, experimentation, and evaluation, we now have the clearest sense in our history of where we are as an organization and where we need to go next. And with this emerging clarity, we are embarking on a five-year strategic planning process next month. Envisioning a five-year horizon will insure that near-term planning plots the appropriate trajectory. This is an exciting, yet daunting, time. [1]Pinetops Foundation reported in 2018 that if the current trends continue, 30-50 million people will have left the church by 2050, never to return. [2]Google’s NGram tool analyzing word usage across time marks a 46% increase in references to “community” from 1960 to 2000.
Conflict and Christian Discipleship - Michael Gulker Interview with Faith and Leadership
January 24, 2019 | Michael Gulker
Conflict and Christian Discipleship - Michael Gulker Interview with Faith and Leadership
The church today has a poor record in helping people navigate conflict, but conflict can be the very thing that can heal them. In fact, we can harness it to be better disciples. Learn more in Faith and Leadership's interview with The Colossian Forum President Michael Gulker here.    
Somber News for the TCF Community
December 7, 2018 | Michael Gulker
Somber News for the TCF Community
Last week we received tragic news of the death of our treasured friend and colleague, Phil Thomas, in Nairobi, Kenya.  Phil was an internationally respected negotiator and peacemaker, as well as an adjunct professor at Goshen College. Phil generously shared his expertise in conflicted conversations with us, introducing new thoughts and extended practices. Most recently he was a presenter at our Annual Conference, September 2018, in Holland, Michigan. We grieve his loss and ask you to pray for the Thomas family and community. Phil will be greatly missed.   Read the Goshen College  announcement for more information.

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