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Advent Greetings - November/December Prayer Letter
December 2, 2019 | Michael Gulker
Advent Greetings - November/December Prayer Letter
Advent greetings from The Colossian Forum! Since Advent is the celebration of the incarnation of Christ, we thought we would try something slightly more incarnational than our usual email prayer letter. We hope you enjoy this experiment and the video. As always, we welcome your feedback. Please email me at mgulker@colossianforum.org with your comments, suggestions or questions.  https://vimeo.com/376447032 Please join us at The Colossian Forum in giving thanks for: · You. As we come to the end of 2019, we are so grateful for our partners, participants, Leaders, and supporters, who make our work not only possible but joyful. Thanks to your steadfast commitment and support, we’ve been able to share the gifts of hope and healing with more people than we ever imagined through The Colossian Way. This year, 115 people have become Colossian Way Leaders, and 29 TCW groups have occurred, representing nearly 350 participants. In our Fall Cohort alone, 144 people are running groups (12 on Sexuality). We couldn’t be more thankful for or encouraged by this engagement!    · Linda Gulker and Christine Pohl, who have volunteered to help us expand our reach on Giving Tuesday. Giving Tuesday is an international movement of generosity, hope, and celebration that invites people to give small donations to organizations they already love. To get involved, please contact Emily Stroble at estroble@colossianforum.org.  · A diverse, well-attended Colossian Way Leader Training last month. Christians from all over the country blessed us with their rich stories of personal and spiritual conflict that led them to TCF. We pray they returned home feeling encouraged and empowered to help their churches become places of reconciliation.   · The opportunity to gather with many of you at our upcoming annual Christmas celebration on Dec. 12. We pray our time together blesses you as it will surely bless us. If you haven’t registered already, please RSVP by Dec. 5th. This month, please join us in praying for the following: · God’s wisdom and guidance as we work strategically to expanding our offerings. · A fruitful experience for those participating in upcoming pilot Leader Training and small groups for our forthcoming Colossian Way series on gender. Their feedback will be essential as we shape the final curriculum. · A productive Giving Tuesday on December 3. Please watch your inbox, our website and TCF social media channels for special video content, stories, and posts. We invite you to share your stories of impact and generosity with TCF’s hashtag, #ForgivingTuesday! · Our many friends who faithfully offer their gifts toward our work. We have been uniquely blessed with a $25,000 matching gift to double the amount and impact of donations received before December 31. Each gift supports training leaders in the U.S. and beyond and builds a clearer picture of TCF’s future work in the Church. Please join us in praying for God’s continued sustainment and growth of this vision. If you would like to participate in the match, please visit www.colossianforum.org/give. Should you have questions, please contact Emily Stroble at estroble@colossianforum.org.  · Broad awareness for our Political Talk curriculum as we work toward launching our Political Talk curriculum in an election year. We pray it will guide churches nationwide toward hope in a polarized world. Upcoming Events: · Please join us Thursday, December 12th from 5 - 8 p.m. for our annual Christmas Celebration! We invite you for fellowship and to receive a “first taste” activity from our Political Talk curriculum launching soon to churches around the country. To help us gauge catering needs, please RSVP by Dec. 5th.   · The January Series: Moving Beyond Labels to a Christian Dialogue about Creation and Evolution with Todd Charles Wood & Darrel R. Falk. Please join these gentlemen, the authors of our latest book, The Fool and the Heretic, on January 9 as they discuss their unique, Christ-filled journey to love and friendship amid deep disagreement. TCF’s Dr. Rob Barrett will moderate the session. We hope you can join us onsite, at any one of 50+ remote sites, or online for LIVE audio streaming! Be sure to stop by our table as well. We'd love to hear about any conflicts your church is facing. Admission is free. Thank you for your faithful prayers. We are comforted and encouraged by your ongoing partnership in prayer.  It would be our privilege to lift up your needs and praises as we gather each morning for prayer.  Please take a moment to email us any intercessions or thanksgivings at info@colossianforum.org.
Spaghetti, Tools, and Broken Bones
November 27, 2019 | Emily Stroble
Spaghetti, Tools, and Broken Bones
Believe it or not, uncooked spaghetti is an important tool. One of the more unconventional uses for this common pasta is to reach under plaster casts to scratch a pesky itch. If you’ve never had a broken bone, just know that, inevitably, skin under a cast begins to itch. And there is nothing you can do about it. You can’t get inside the cast. You can’t take the cast off. Spaghetti, as strange or silly it sounds, is the best solution. It’s long enough, thin enough, and just strong enough to reach under the cast. It’s the perfect tool. It’s all too easy to forget that healing can be uncomfortable. This is as true of churches and relationships as it is of broken bones. Forgiveness—both that Christ gives us and that we give others—can feel like a cast, holding us together in uncomfortable moments and relationships as we heal. Forgiveness forces us to be with the God or people from whom we had been separated. Being held together isn’t always fun. But forgiveness follows confession and is a powerful, transformative expression of our commitment to and oneness in Christ. It calls us to communion, even with those who hurt us, in the midst of conflicts so often characterized by selfishness, pride, and hate. The Colossian Way embraces the itchy aspects of healing—the difficult conversations, the vulnerability, the confessions, the self-examination, and the truths that make us squirm. You, in joining in the work of The Colossian Forum, have bravely chosen to work faithfully in the heart of the fractures of the church. Because, just as a broken arm or leg is nearly useless, the brokenness of the Church hobbles our Kingdom work and damages our witness. Your gifts help pastors and Christian leaders like Henry Kranenburg, the pastor of West End Christian Reformed Church in Edmonton, Canada, hold together the difficult moments of healing with the cast of forgiveness. Henry’s congregation is engaging issues of sexuality, and The Colossian Way has been a source of encouragement. “I don’t think we have a strong record of working hard to be one [Church],” Henry reflected. “We work harder to define what divides us than what unites us. How do we honor that oneness [in Christ], recognizing that we are not all on the same page?” While looking for resources for his church, Henry attended a local TCF event and was inspired to learn more. Afterward, a generous donor provided several scholarships to TCF’s Annual Conference 2019 for pastors. Henry was one of the recipients and shared how important financial support is to empowering pastors to guide their congregations through conflicts. “It is not just saving a pastor or a church some dollars,” Henry explained. “[It’s] a stimulus to help them think in a way they haven’t before. [Scholarships] become part of an invitation. I might not have gone [to the Conference] without that invitation and missed more than I realized.”   Now, Henry has begun using The Colossian Way, not only in his congregation, but beyond, in his classis, the regional governing body for his denomination. He has seen the focus in his church shift toward the vision of the Church Jesus prays for in John 17:11, “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” You, our donors, are doing “spaghetti work”—giving pastors like Henry the tools to reach into these difficult, itchy places, where we are held together in the forgiveness of Christ. Because of your kindness and faithfulness, a more beautiful Christian witness extends farther—from pastors, to churches, to communities. Next week, on December 3, The Colossian Forum will with participate in Giving Tuesday, an international movement of generosity, hope, and celebration that invites people to give small donations, often just $5, to organizations they already love, and discover new ways to make a difference, too. By reaching out to friends and family through social media, email, and in-person, you can ignite a brighter light in the Church. Would you be willing to spread the word about The Colossian Forum? Share your stories with TCF’s hashtag #ForgivingTuesday! Keep an eye out for special video content, stories, and posts on December 3! All gifts we receive on Giving Tuesday will be matched by a generous donor up to $25,000. If you’d like more information on Giving Tuesday and how to get involved, please email us at info@colossianforum.org. If you’d like to give a gift to equip leaders engaging conflict in their churches and communities, explore colossianforum.org/give.
Refusing to Separate – Post-Conference Reflections
October 16, 2019 | Michael Gulker
Refusing to Separate – Post-Conference Reflections
Last year, our Annual Conference brought together Christians desperate to find ways to move from fear to hope in polarized times. A year later, it’s no surprise we find the world still divided, ourselves still held captive by our political and cultural ideologies and still struggling to remember the promise of the gospel. These are the challenges of our time. But as Christians, we know the Holy Spirit is calling forth something new in Christ’s resurrection, and at The Colossian Forum, we’re eager to participate in it. We’re in for the long journey—a journey toward hope. Last month, at our second Annual Conference, we spent three days traveling that journey with experts and friends from around the world. As you’ll see from the presentations of our remarkable plenary and workshop speakers, we journeyed through The Colossian Way, gathering in the name of Jesus, practicing engaging our deepest conflicts with receptivity to the Holy Spirit and to one another, and witnessing what new thing God is doing in our midst. We gathered across deep disagreement—as brothers and sisters, Republicans and Democrats, activists and businesspeople, pastors and laypeople, students and senior citizens. We practiced worshipping together in the face of conflict, which is present “…where two or three gather in my name…” (Mt. 18:20). And we witnessed the body of Christ flourish. Gather Dr. Robert Chao Romero helped us remember that great eschatological vision of all nations and all peoples gathered before the throne of God and the Lamb, proclaiming in every language and through every culture the manifold glory of God’s beauty. But he also shared the hurt of the Brown Church, of the American-Hispanic community, at the demeaning of their ethnic brothers and sisters. He helped us name the very real barriers this hurt creates to gathering together in the name of Jesus. Through his gentle hospitality and receptivity to us, he called us to repent of our ideologies and false allegiances. He reminded us that while we are not practiced at listening to the unique cultural honor and treasure of those who come from places different from our own, we can, through the power of the Holy Spirit, learn to listen to one another across difference and hurt. He helped us see that to hope honestly, we must hear these voices. He reminded us that Christ has already torn down the dividing wall and that we are family. Practice Dr. Ruth Haley Barton ushered us through the next steps in our journey. She reminded us that unless we develop intentional practices to welcome the Holy Spirit into our conflicts, true reconciliation will remain beyond our reach. She introduced practices uniquely suited to our polarized times and challenged us to leave behind the secular, Spirit-starved ways of engaging difference, where self-protection and suspicion prevent us from becoming vulnerable to the Holy Spirit and one another. When we welcome the work of the Spirit, we can imagine our lives together as one in Christ, even across our differences, and experience a new thing being done in our midst—between Chinese and Congolese Christians, Trump defenders and haters, border wall opposers and supporters, persecutors and persecuted.   Witness Then Dr. Bungishabaku Katho challenged us to be honest about the nature of our witness. He shared a story of Buta Seminary, the only school in Burundi where students from both Hutu and Tutsi ethnicities lived together amidst horrific civil war and genocide. In 1997, after several years of living through tribal hatred and violence, a Hutu militia group attacked the school. Three times, the commander ordered the students to separate by tribe. Three times, they refused. After the third refusal, the commander opened fire in reckless slaughter, murdering over 40 students. One wounded boy ran to find the rector and proclaimed just before he died, “Father, we have won. They told us to separate, and we refused. We have won.”   Because of their brave witness, this horrific event became the building block for healing and the reconstitution of the Burundi government. These martyrs, these witnesses, have become a wellspring of national unity. Officials and citizens alike regularly visit their gravesite. Their courage and sacrifice redefine what it means to win. To be faithful witnesses—to win—we must become weak, vulnerable to one another and the world. It can be costly—even deadly. This is the way of Christ on the cross. Our opportunity to witness to the resurrection begins when we’re willing to lay down our lives, rather than be separated, as the boys in Butu did. How are we to stand and reject our imposed, worldly loyalties as these martyrs did? Answering this question is beyond the minds of mortals, for only by the power of the Spirit can we proclaim Jesus, the Lamb who was slain, to be Lord, and follow him. And following him begins with repentance, with recovering our imagination as to how we might belong to God’s kingdom more absolutely than to the tribes into which we’re born or adopted. Robert reminded us that even in our context of division, the river of life that conquers all sin and death flows from throne of the Lamb. And it leads to the tree of life, the leaves of which God has given for the healing of the nations (Rev. 22). With a view from heaven, a view given for the healing of our country, we’re being invited into this story—just as the Hutu and Tutsi students’ story began the healing of Burundi. If we don’t participate in this story—in God’s grand work—we risk becoming the walking dead, ideological captives of the left and the right. Our conference speakers reminded us how to live into this story. As long-time TCF friend and partner Dr. Joe Liechty reflected after listening to Dr. Katho, “I’ve been present to hear the latest chapter of the New Testament, the epistle from the apostle Katho to the church in North America.” Moving toward this hope of healing, the TCF community will continue to gather, practice, and witness, opening ourselves to God and one another, to voices we might not normally encounter. Because we cannot, from within our own echo chambers, overcome the polarization that has us by the throat. But by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can be a part of a new thing and live into a space beyond enemies[1], where all things hold together in Christ. We humbly invite you to join us. Together, we can reflect Christ’s shining light by refusing the idolatry of the left and the right, remembering what it means to win, and refusing to be separated. [1] Fitch, D. (2019). The Church of Us vs. Them: Freedom from a Faith the Feeds on Making Enemies. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press. Excerpt available at http://cdn.bakerpublishinggroup.com/processed/book-resources/files/Excerpt_Fitch_Short.pdf?1561576116.
Not Tame: Narnia and Relationships
September 23, 2019 | Emily Stroble
Not Tame: Narnia and Relationships
“He is not a tame lion. He is not safe, but he is good,” Mr. Beaver says of Aslan the lion in The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis.   As a child, those words transported me to Beaver Lodge with Lucy, Susan, and Peter, siblings from our world, who stumble into Narnia, a world enchanted in perpetual winter by the evil White Witch. Suddenly, the children realize Edmund, their brother, has snuck away and been captured by the witch. They hurry off to beg for Aslan’s help. The story is, perhaps, the classic Christian allegory. Aslan, the Christ-figure, dies to save sinful Edmund but doesn’t stay dead. Instead, he rises to lead the children in the final battle against the White Witch and her army of monsters. Lewis centers this beautiful story on a broken relationship, spending many pages before we ever see Narnia watching Edmund’s relationships. He makes sure we don’t miss that what Edmund needs to be saved from is not the consequences of one mistake. Rather, Edmund’s character is twisted by cruelty that wrecks his relationships, particularly with his little sister, Lucy. He betrays his siblings for the White Witch’s promises and puts all of Narnia in danger. When Aslan rescues Edmund, his first care is their broken relationship. He returns Edmund to his siblings, saying, “Take your brother and speak no more of what is past.” With this command, Aslan decisively creates something new. The restoration culminates as Edmund fights the White Witch hand-to-hand, a courageous act of repentance and rejection of his old ways. He is mortally wounded. Lucy rushes to his aid, evidencing that Aslan has made their relationship new, empowering them to help each other and do incredible good in the world. Conflict is at the heart of this story, not only in relationships but in the collision of themes. Despite being a children’s story, the narrative is sometimes brutal. Despite Aslan embodying the compassion of Jesus, there is hardly a character who is not afraid of him. Through The Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis invites us to imagine God as God describes himself — “the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished” (Exodus 34:6-7). In scripture, God’s love is a fearsome thing. Is that, perhaps, why Aslan so captures our hearts and imaginations? More importantly, why is this fierce love, so beautiful and scriptural, so surprising — the stuff of fantasy stories? We Christians often speak of God’s love in our lives and relationships. Yet, when we approach conflict, our best efforts at love tend to devolve into mere listening exercises, chilly tolerance, and a polite status quo. Nothing changes. Nobody changes. In a narrative, not only would that kind of resolution make for a boring story, even written by Lewis, but it’s not at all characteristic of who God declares himself to be and of the kind of work he does.   The kind of love Aslan enacts as he dies on the Stone Table, the kind that recreates Edmund’s and Lucy’s relationship, is world-altering. There is a deep magic, Aslan says, “…that when a willing victim is killed in a traitor’s stead…Death itself works backward.” Aslan’s love creates new hearts, new relationships, new rules for the universe. Aslan doesn’t simply return things to the way they were. No; Edmund repents and is changed from selfish to sacrificial, his strength transformed from bullying to bravery. The Stone Table breaks. Creatures turned to stone by the White Witch awake to life. Godly love is the powerful thing that grows up where the ice of bitterness, apathy, and sin are hacked away, creating real relationships.   Love is speaking truth in courageous vulnerability, knowing those whom we love most are those who most deeply hurt us. Love is a tenacious commitment to the flourishing of our brothers and sisters. When they do wrong, when they fall prey to beautiful lies, we go after them, not content in our own joy and understanding until they share it.   Love is quick and eager to repent, and it fights against our own selfishness and pride. Brave love roars and riots with the power of God’s imagination, the power that since the beginning and forever draws new creation out of darkness and chaos. Brothers and sisters, God is not about a tame work or a frosty peace between “friends.” God is about a deep magic that makes the heavy wheels of death grind backwards. He’s about returning our lost loved ones and leading us, who had hearts of stone, to a love wild in its courage and power. Love is often called a soft, tame thing. It is not. It is lion-like. Do you think love is tame or lion-like? Please share your thoughts on social media using the hashtag #nottame.   
The Banner: Practicing the Ministry of Reconciliation - by Michael Gulker
September 16, 2019 | Michael Gulker
The Banner: Practicing the Ministry of Reconciliation - by Michael Gulker
Fear and conflict—and fear of conflict—dominate many of the headlines on our news feeds these days. These conflicts (and conflict avoidance) are ripping apart our nations, denominations, congregations, and even our families. According to a study by the Francis A. Schaeffer Institute of Church Leadership, “The top reasons why people leave a church have to do with not being connected in the church and/or being revolted by gossip and turned away by conflict and strife.” Not being connected. Being revolted. These responses are likely the result of our refusal to engage the many conflicts separating us, or our tendency to engage them badly. We’re tired of it—really tired of it. So how can we do better? Read more...
TCF's Chris De Vos Discusses the Impact of The Colossian Way on Churches with The Banner
August 30, 2019 | Chris De Vos
TCF's Chris De Vos Discusses the Impact of The Colossian Way on Churches with The Banner
Chris De Vos, TCF's VP of Partnerships and Care and a Christian Reformed pastor, talked to The Banner recently about how his work as a pastor has informed his work with TCF helping churches transform conflicts into opportunities for spiritual formation. Read more...

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