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Colossian Blog

Displaying all posts tagged "Church".
On Loneliness and Resurrection Moments
June 12, 2018 | Michael Gulker
On Loneliness and Resurrection Moments
A year ago, I wrote a prayer letter in response to a surprising outcome of Christians engaging conflict together in the presence of God as an act of worship. Over and over, leaders trained in The Colossian Way tell us that they’re not only discovering the ability to live faithfully amidst conflict, but also how just being together through conflict reveals a deep and abiding loneliness afflicting their lives.    In a spate of recent news articles triggered by a health report, loneliness is back in the spotlight (see e.g., USA Today, US News & World Report, and Comment). In the report, the physiological effect of loneliness is equated to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Loneliness is a disease ravaging our nation, churches, and families. Especially concerning is the reality that the primary victims of loneliness are those most awash in an endless stream of digital communication—our youth.  I was struck by these articles, in part, because just the week prior my wife and I confessed to some of our closest friends that one of our deepest spiritual hurts is indeed loneliness. This seems a strange affliction for two people who constantly feel overwhelmed by endless email, tweets, posts, texts, and phone calls. How can we be lonely amidst all this noise? Loneliness, disease, poverty, sickness. These are not words we associate with America or the American church, but they afflict us nonetheless. We feel vulnerable and silly even saying them out loud. Perhaps we’re not the only ones feeling alone—oddballs who need to get it together. According to Jamie Smith’s Comment editorial: “You are alone. Except there are hundreds of thousands of you. You’re not alone in being lonely—not that that makes you any less lonely. Loneliness—often a factor of social isolation—has become a societal epidemic in late capitalist societies. The Centre for Social Justice provides a succinct snapshot in the United Kingdom, for example:       As many as 800,000 people in England are chronically lonely and many more experience some degree of loneliness. 17 percent of older people interact with family, friends or neighbours less than once a week, while 11 percent do so less than once a month. It is linked to cardiovascular disease, dementia and depression and according to some researchers, its effect on mortality is similar to smoking and worse than obesity. One study revealed that it can increase the risk of an early death by as much as 30 percent. In addition to this there is a strong link between isolation and poverty: having two or more close friends reduces the likelihood of poverty by nearly 20 percent.” So, what’s the relationship between conflict (our fear of it and our incapacity to engage it well) and loneliness? My own experience and the experience of hundreds of Colossian Way participants has been that despite ubiquitous digital communication, we are cut off from communion with those we love because of our fear of getting conflict wrong. Ironically, we are most in need of fellowship and friendship at the very places we are most afraid. Hence, we suffer spiritually, emotionally, and even physically from a poverty of friendship. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Mother Teresa said years ago that, “The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty—it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.” When asked by an American reporter to name the poorest country she’d visited, Mother Teresa responded, “I have been to many countries and seen much poverty and suffering. Everywhere I go people tell me of their hardships and struggles, and ask for help, and I give what I can. But of all the countries I have been to, the poorest one I have been to is America.” Somewhat shocked, the reporter informed Mother Teresa that America was one of the richest countries and questioned how it could be the poorest. “Because”, she replied, “America suffers most from the poverty of loneliness.” Let’s face it, our engagement with conflict as an act of worship won’t fix the world any more than Mother Teresa’s cup of water for the dying. Yet, as captives of hope we believe these small acts testify to a reality bigger and more beautiful than we can imagine. Even though we only see “as through a glass darkly” these little eschatological foretastes of what will be enable us to participate more fully in the deepest truth of the world, in contrast to the endless news cycle of violence and conflict.  We can say this with confidence because we’ve seen the kingdom break forth already through our Lord’s death and resurrection, and in multiple iterations of that resurrection in our own lives of worship and witness. As we risk laying down our lives, or at least our arguments, we become a cup of water to a dying world—marking the inbreaking of the new world. And what better way to quench the thirst for relationship hidden at the core of our deepest conflicts.
Help for a Church in Crisis
March 7, 2018 | Rob Barrett
Help for a Church in Crisis
A church crisis strains the whole congregation. There are no techniques for quickly easing those strains. The Colossian Forum takes a long view on these painful situations, focusing not on the quick fix but the opportunity for renewed discipleship. Step 1: There is always a path of faithfulness The first thing to remember is that there is always a path of faithfulness before you. While you work on the problem facing you, continually ask, “What might faithfulness to God look like right now?” No matter how messed up and hopeless things seem, God has given you everything you need to be faithful to him. Seek that out. The Sunday school basics are especially true in a crisis. Step 2: Look for how to be faithful to one another Take a deep breath and see if there is a space in the chaos for rebuilding broken relationships. Seek out those with whom you disagree. Pursue the virtues that build unity: humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, and love (Ephesians 4:2). Crises are usually filled with the deeds of the flesh—impurity, enmity, strife, jealousy, rage, and divisions—rather than the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:19-23). Now’s the time for adopting Christ’s pattern of valuing others more than oneself (Philippians 2:1-11). Step 3: Look to the future Crises shine a spotlight on our brokenness. As uncomfortable as it is to see our dark side, we are reminded of God’s commitment to transform us more into the likeness of Christ. As your church is tarnished by half-truths, gossip, and power plays, be willing to let God see how ugly and destructive fleshly instincts are. Learning this anew won’t by itself re-form your character, but it can re-energize the journey of discipleship. As the pressure of this crisis eases over time, don’t just sigh in relief and return to life as usual. The next crisis looms. Use the lull between crises to take up the spiritual disciplines that God has provided to become the kinds of people who can engage the next one better. A church crisis can be disheartening, but it can also bring us face-to-face with God’s call to be transformed. By God’s grace, today’s mess might lead to a better handling of tomorrow’s mess. Not just by learning new crisis management techniques, but by renewing a commitment to the basic Christian practices: worship, prayer, Bible study, giving, self-denial, and so on. These are not mere busy work. They are the Spirit’s ways of building up a church that is ready to testify to God’s saving power. As you stumble through today’s crisis, your testimony may focus on God’s forgiveness and healing in the midst of failure. But have hope that God will, little by little, have you soon testifying to how he has enabled you to love one another more truly and deeply, especially when tested under pressure.
Waiting Expectantly for What the World Overlooks
December 27, 2017 | Michael Gulker
Waiting Expectantly for What the World Overlooks
All too often, hope leaks from our souls, allowing despair to settle in and take residence. Oh, it’s not enough to set off alarms, and we’re more than capable of burying it under the rush of holiday shopping. But despair’s cumulative effect erodes our faith, leaving us at the mercy of nagging fears and silencing our witness to the reconciling power of Christ. As the anxieties of our culture, as well as our limits, press on us, fear propels us further into isolation or hostility. Either response belies the hope that the apostle Paul writes about in Romans 5:5: “and hope doesn’t disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” The Holy Spirit replenishes hope, empowering us to live patient, faithful lives in these complicated times. Because I feel these pressures too, I’ve been thinking and writing about hope, fear, and the Holy Spirit over the last few months. Adopting virtues such as humility, patience, kindness, and forbearance—to name a few—is impossible without the Holy Spirit. I know this through my own hard experience with my own failures. We really are powerless to effect change ourselves. That’s why the mission of The Colossian Forum—to transform conflict into an opportunity for spiritual growth and witness—is ridiculously audacious. Audacious in the “fearless” sense: boldly admitting that the sheer impossibility of unity-despite-our-difference—without God’s loving Spirit poured out. This Advent season begs us to reflect on such things as hope, fear, love, powerlessness, and the audacity of the gospel we’re called to patiently proclaim and embody, however seemingly small and insignificant our actions seem. Cutting through the cultural hype, we struggle to recall that angels provided the only fanfare to the desperate, obscure circumstance of an ordinary couple. Only a gaggle of shepherds and a few errant wise men witnessed the glory of Immanuel’s birth. Advent teaches us to wait expectantly for what the world overlooks. As I reflect on the 2017 launch of The Colossian Way small group experience, we catch these little glimpses of transformation—glimpses easily overlooked. Pastors encouraged to stay the course. Family members continuing to communicate in the midst of pain. Denominations convening difficult but honest conversations, knowing that the process could be a long one. Patience and curiosity in the middle of intergenerational dialogue. Fear acquiescing to hope. We are moving steadily toward our “audacious” goal of training 200 leaders and 1,200 participants in The Colossian Way, with 2018 promising to take us halfway there. I invite you to journey with us toward hope. Together, through your partnership in prayer, involvement, and generosity, we can glory in what the noisy world overlooks—Christians cultivating daily faithfulness in the midst of wrenching polarization, division, and conflict. I invite you to journey with us—reading, learning, conversing, praying, and giving—as we grow to love God and each other more.
Re-shaping and Re-forming Through Conflict
December 20, 2017 | Rob Barrett
Re-shaping and Re-forming Through Conflict
Q: How can a conflict be a place of Christian formation? A: While most people see a divisive issue as a problem to overcome, at The Colossian Forum we see such conflicts as places of growth. Conflict shines light on our souls. When pressures mount, our character becomes apparent. Some of what we see is disappointing, as when we protect ourselves more than our vulnerable neighbor. On the other hand, when humility emerges under pressure, it is humility indeed. But beyond learning about ourselves, conflicts are classrooms for learning new habits. Messy conflicts are more than problems to be solved. They place us on the brink of being more deeply formed as Christians. Unfortunately, we have been deeply formed by our polarized culture. The 24-hour news cycle teaches us that there are two ways of seeing the world: a right way and a wrong way, and that both can be summarized in a tweet. Our constant consumption of news, of arguments, information, facts, and stats from our channel of choice plays to our belief that if we can just deploy the right information with enough flair, the world will be forced to see things our way. But then we discover (over and over again) that this doesn’t work. The other side always has a counterargument. We get frustrated and begin thinking of them as willfully naïve, stupid, or just plain evil. Each time the news cycle goes around, we are tempted to increasing viciousness. Our capacity for living according to Christ’s pattern grows weaker and weaker. But there’s always a God-pleasing way forward for Christians. When we recognize our malformation, we have the opportunity to seek God’s gracious work that will re-form us into the shape we were intended to be. And we have a role in this reshaping work. Christians have always recognized that “getting saved” is only the beginning of growing in faithfulness. Walking this road of formation, of discipleship, is a central mark of the Christian life. Our formation as disciples proceeds best if it flows out of more than good intentions. Christians have generally understood certain practices to build good Christian character. Prayer, Bible reading, receiving the Lord’s Supper, hymn singing, giving to those in need: such traditional practices form Christians (by God’s grace) into people who are patient, humble, truthful, and loving. These basic Christian practices can be helpfully complemented by additional practices that are particularly suited for responding to the cultural pressures of the age. The Colossian Way is a practice of engaging a challenging topic while simultaneously pursuing obedience and faithfulness to Christ. Such a practice channels the pressure and energy around a “hot topic” into constructive spiritual formation. At the same time, good formation is the best pathway for solving the problem before us.
Christ the King, King Over Everything
December 13, 2017 | Jennifer Vander Molen
Christ the King, King Over Everything
This month's prayer letter talked about our death before us, even when our resurrection is secure. Our world is full of struggle right now, and Advent reminds us that we join the suffering of our Savior, in both big and small ways. The "small house church" mentioned in the letter is Kalamazoo Mennonite Fellowship, and Pastor Will Fitzgerald gave us permission to post this sermon from Christ the King Sunday, November 26. We hope you enjoy a moment of hope and reassurance from this Gospel message today. Ephesians 1:15-23 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. This passage is from the first letter of Paul to the church in Ephesus, and he has heard good things about them. This is what he has heard: they have true faith in Jesus, and they show love to others, especially those in the church in need. Every time Paul thinks of them, he gives God thanks for them. I think we know what that’s like. Whenever I think about our former member, Elisha, it brings a smile to my face, and I often thank God. Who are people like that for you? Paul does something else for them: he prays for them. There are many things you can pray for someone, and many reasons why you think God will answer your prayer. In Paul’s case, he knows God can answer his prayer because God the Father was so powerful that he took a dead Jesus and raised him from death into a position of power – the position of power, seated at the Father’s right hand. He declared Christ to be king, king over everything. Christ is king over every “rule and authority and power and dominion.” That means Christ is king over the United States government, over the Democratic and Republican parties, over the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), over the armed forces. Christ is King over our bosses and the companies we work for. Christ is King over our parents and spouses and children. Christ is king over systems of addiction and every system of oppression. If there is something we truly need, none of these powerful things will get in the way of our achieving it through our powerful God. It may not come right away, but it will come in God’s own time. What are things that you feel powerless over? How can knowing that God is more powerful than whatever has you in its grip help you? Christ is also king over “every name that is named.” If it has a name, Christ is king over it. Christ is king over Donald J. Trump. Christ is king over every president and leader in the world. Christ is king over cancer and every disease. Christ is king over sadness and failure, and every moral lack. Christ is king over the devil and sin and hell and death. What could you name that frightens or threatens you? How does your obedience to Christ the King give you courage and strength? Paul finishes this section by saying that Christ the king orders everything for the sake of his body, which is the church. We are filled with Christ, who fills everything. And so, a bit, it comes full circle. Paul goes down this path because he remembered the faith of the believers at Ephesus, and how they loved other people. This is how Christ seems to be filling out the church: by making it full of faith and full of love. One of the ways we can think about becoming can be the “good sheep” that Ezekiel and Jesus talk about is exactly this: to increase in our trust of Jesus and to continue to love the people around us. It’s as simple and as hard as that. In closing let me ask these questions again: What things do you feel powerless over, that Christ, nonetheless, is king over? How does this change how you act or feel? What things can you name that frighten or threaten you? How does Christ the King give you courage and strength? How can this week be full of the “fullness of Christ” as you love others and increase your faith in him?
#GivingTuesday Success -- Thank You!
November 29, 2017 | Jennifer Vander Molen
#GivingTuesday Success -- Thank You!
In the midst of all the noise this holiday season, we want to thank you for your ongoing investment in The Colossian Forum’s transformational mission. You understand both the challenge and the promise of Colossians 1:17 that “all things hold together in Christ”—even Christ’s body, the church. You faithfully pray, volunteer, provide expertise, and give, and we are deeply grateful! Yesterday, we participated in #GivingTuesday, an annual day of charitable giving that piggybacks on Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday. We deeply appreciate the many prayers, gifts, and investment in us over the past year. We know that it’s hard to be hopeful during times of deepening cultural division when conflict threatens to fracture our closest relationships. Our mission is to equip the church with resources and practices to bridge the divides that polarize and paralyze us. We believe these wrenching conflicts provide an opportunity for the hope and healing we long for. Thanks for being part of the journey. May our unity in the midst of difference be a testimony to the wholeness and holiness of our Triune God.