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Displaying all posts tagged "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.
Your Christmas Sign
December 20, 2018 | Chris De Vos
Your Christmas Sign
A few days from now we will be evaluating our Christmas celebrations. Many will feel that Christmas was complete because everyone liked their gifts, all the meals were satisfying, and the church services were beautiful.  But for me, Christmas isn’t Christmas unless I experience a pleasant moment of divine dissonance.  It happens when I least expect it. But, in retrospect, I find that I am somehow wonderfully prepared. For instance, a few years ago in a Sunday School Christmas program, midway through the first act, the lead shepherd walked up to the lead angel (his sister), and “got in her face.”  For less than a minute (which felt like ten to mom), there was a heated conversation between the two that abandoned the storyline but followed a script they had rehearsed earlier at home.  It was a celestial showdown at the Christmas Corral. The wings didn’t come off, and the shepherd’s staff didn’t become a sword, but I was "sore afraid" that the manger would be toppled.  After the program, their good-natured mother told me the argument was about who was supposed to say “peace on earth to all people.”  “Ah,” I thought, “I had seen the sign that this was indeed Christmas.” Alongside our holiday celebrations, there is a radical side to the message of Christmas.  God took on our flesh.  In the midst of our spats, our misunderstandings, rivalries, and stubbornness, Jesus was born. “God with us” means God among us, just as we are.  God took on our character and spoke the lines we cannot get ourselves to believe: “Peace be with you.”  The child grew to tragically fulfill the role we were never able to play: a human being in perfect union with God.  God did not come into our world by lightly brushing up against us.  As one Confession states, Jesus came, “born in time, completely God, completely human.” The Gospel story of Jesus’ birth includes colorful detail, like angels announcing the birth of a king to shepherds.  Shepherds were looked down upon in society. Shepherds never dressed up as cute Sunday School children.  They were more likely to be spotted in the detention hall or the principal’s office.  Today, if we still thought of shepherds the way they did in Jesus’ day, there would be a Shepherd Locator Website where you could plug in your address to see how many shepherds lived in your neighborhood. One scholar suggests that if real shepherds ever encountered angels, they would expect a message of judgment or at least a guilt trip (“You’re still a shepherd? I hear they’re accepting applications at carpentry school.”) A shepherd would certainly not expect to be invited to the home of a newborn king. And yet we find angels and shepherds conversing with grace. We find angels telling the shepherds that there would be a sign for them: “You will find the baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”   Peasant shepherds wrapped their babies in cloths and laid them in mangers. Kenneth Bailey says that this would have been a personalized sign for them: “That is, they would find the Christ child in an ordinary peasant home such as theirs.” Suddenly, their disheveled souls found hope. There is a Christmas sign for you, one tailored to your life, one that says, “You will find the child wrapped in the garments of your life, living in the same sort of home you do.”  You will recognize that sign, for you know the details of your own life:  your doubts, your struggles, your victories, and your dreams.  It is within your own life that God will speak to you about the love and the new life that he has in store for you.  That sign will come when you least expect it; yet you, too, will be wonderfully prepared.  It is a sign you must “go and see.” You can do this by reading the gospels or by attending a church service.  But you must go yourself.  And Christmas won’t be complete until you do.   Chris DeVos is the Manager of Church Partnerships and Care at The Colossian Forum.
Wrestling Toward the Promise...
November 19, 2018 | Michael Gulker
Wrestling Toward the Promise...
 “Your name will not be Jacob anymore. Instead, it will be Israel. You have wrestled with God and with people. And you have won.” Genesis 32:28 As most of us are painfully aware, our county is reeling from ever-deepening political factionalism. This factionalism doesn’t stop with the evening news but invades our workplaces, friendships, homes, and churches. We want to sidestep this ugly fact about our lives, but I ask you to take a risk and follow me in an exercise. Take a moment to think about a person you love and long to be in relationship with, but from whom you are now alienated. Hold this person in your mind. Don’t avoid the brokenness or the hurt. Just sit with this person and your feelings for a minute or two. When we, as God’s people, can’t seem to be reconciled with those we most love, it’s hard to find a way “to give reason to the world for the hope that’s in us.” (I Peter 3:15) The Colossian Forum is an experiment, a possibility, an idea with which to wrestle. What if we used all the energy surrounding these political conflicts, not to deepen division and warfare by our desperate need to win, but to deepen discipleship and witness? What if “that person,” (the one you can't talk to) has been gifted to you for your sanctification, motivating a renewed and authoritative witness to Christ’s gospel of reconciliation? As we ponder the possibility of personal sanctification, I would like to wrestle with a biblical text—the story of Jacob as an overtly political act. This text opens a window into two different politics, two different visions of “the good life.” (Genesis 25 to 33) Before their birth and throughout their lives we see the politics of Jacob and Esau on display—brothers wrestling, angling, and seeking dominance over one another to attain blessing, wealth, and security. Esau comes first and is the perfect specimen to carry on and extend Isaac’s worldly holdings. He’s not dependent upon God for his wellbeing, nor does a transcendent vision guide his life. He’s privileged enough to despise his birthright, even selling it for a cup of soup.  Then comes Jacob, the heel-grabber, usurper, deceiver. He envies and despises the status and success that come naturally to Esau. Jacob’s a wannabe, the weaker brother, who must use his brains to manipulate Esau to steal his birthright and blessing, even though God already sovereignly bestowed it upon Jacob before his birth. Jacob can’t depend on his natural ability or the social order to provide worldly security—he needs God’s promise and blessing. But as the younger brother, the blessing is not naturally his. Instead of conserving the social order, he spends most of his life scheming to subvert it for his gain and Esau's loss. And Jacob pretty much succeeds. Until years later, as he flees from his father-in-law Laban, God sends him into the heart of conflict to face Esau. As confrontation with Esau draws near, tension mounts. Is Esau going to forgive him or slaughter him? Will he be able to outfox Esau again? Will God’s promise be fulfilled? By every measure, Esau appears to be the child of blessing—the natural and social order are in his favor. That night as Jacob rests alone by the Jabbok river, he discovers that he has company. Someone is wrestling with him. He’s always wrestled, hasn't he? Since before his birth, he jostled with Esau in the womb, and throughout his entire life, he’s competed with Esau for his father’s love and blessing. In this late-night wrestling match, neither he nor his opponent get the upper hand. He then realizes that he is wrestling with heaven—with God himself, and acknowledges his defeat. His opponent touches Jacob’s hip, and the fight is over. Jacob is crippled. From another perspective, however, the fight goes on. The now-crippled heel-grabber caught up in the mystery of divine-human agency, continues to grab, not letting go. If Jacob lets go, he has nothing. He is nothing. It’s his name, after all. It’s who he is. By refusing to let go, he desperately tries to extort one last blessing as, perhaps, the final ploy to escape his conundrum with Esau. But his opponent, immune to such manipulation and compelled by Jacob’s refusal to let go, gives him far more. “What is your name?” asks his opponent. Who are you? What are you? What constitutes you? Hip out of joint, pinned down, and Esau approaching, Jacob can no longer evade the ugliness of his scheming, lying self. Wrestling by the river Jabbok, he replies, “My name is Jacob, (heel grabber, deceiver, usurper)." He has lied, cheated, and stolen what God has already abundantly given him. Trickster is Jacob's identity. But . . . no longer. Jacob will no longer be the heel-grabber. Instead, he is given a new existence, baptized into the fulfillment of his true identity. Jacob, the heel-grabber, is now Israel—the God-grabber. He is named one who wrestles with God and the world. It’s the politics of baptism, death, and resurrection, as well as the politics of promise and abundance.  Through Israel’s struggle with God and the world, we also have been grafted into this identity and bear the name of Israel—God-grabber. In Jacob’s destiny, as fulfilled in Christ, we find our destiny. In the politics of Jesus, we locate ourselves in the promise. Perhaps “that person”—the one we love, who is so wrong—gives us a chance to live out our identity and be more than a cliché. Perhaps we wrestle with God as we wrestle “that person”—refusing to let go even when we disagree. We encounter brokenness that mirrors our brokenness.  Perhaps it’s when we grasp God and “that person,” we encounter God in “that person.”  I suspect this is our hope—holding on to God while holding on to one another. Only as we wrestle will we move from fear to hope, and be capable of “giving reason for the hope that is within.”
Giving Reason for the Hope that is Within Us
September 19, 2018 | Michael Gulker
Giving Reason for the Hope that is Within Us
In my previous post, I posited the possibility that we as believers have lost our “theological imagination.” Such an imagination opens doors to new ways of thinking, especially when we are engulfed in deep cultural divides and unable to envision anything beyond the tedious FOX & CNN polarities. I suggested that our ability to be a hopeful people is rooted in our capacity to imagine and live in God’s faithfulness to us through Christ. Because of Christ’s sacrificial death, we are freed from sin and the fear of death to love as he loved—sacrificially. I left you with this question to ponder: How will others experience resurrection hope if we don’t follow Christ by shouldering our cross and loving even those with whom we disagree? Perhaps you, like me, have found that the call to love sacrificially is quickly silenced in the din of our postmodern world. It’s easier to blame our lack of hope on those across the cultural divide rather than our own fear and failure to live into God’s kingdom now. We often lose sight of the resurrection and its power to free us from the hopelessness that seeps in from the endless rancor of warring rhetoric. Might our culture’s “zombie apocalypse” narrative be a direct result of Christians failing to witness to a real resurrection hope? This world’s only hope—our only hope—of experiencing Christ’s sacrificial love is to witness Christians willing to lay down their lives, or at least their arguments, for their enemies. Are we willing to embody that hope? If we are, we will slowly and almost imperceptibly begin to represent the good news and become a tantalizing morsel of the hope for which our world is desperate.  What if the cultural polarization evident in our globalized and fragmented age turns out to be our best opportunity to let the reconciling power of the gospel shine most brightly? What if this fear, polarization, and division is creating a new, post-Christendom appetite for the ministry of reconciliation given to us by Christ?  Bland optimism? Perhaps. Or maybe it’s the gospel opportunity set before us each day. We are made to hope. We long to hope. We need to give a reason for the hope that is in us (1 Pet.3:15).  Ironically, it’s only as we learn to resituate other forms of hope—wealth, success, personal ability, physical beauty, offspring, a long life—pouring them out for those we have been called to serve, that we come to know the genuine hope found in our risen Lord.  Even when we do this effectively and faithfully, the world doesn’t suddenly reshape itself in the image of our hope. Instead it requires, as it did with Jesus, that God vindicates our lives in the resurrection. No, that’s not quite right, is it? God has already vindicated our lives through Christ, and his resurrected life—the life that was, and is, and is to come—is our life. That’s why The Colossian Forum’s mission is to equip the church—to equip you—with concrete practices that will train and free you to walk confidently into places of brokenness and alienation, and love sacrificially. Our prayer is that you will both taste and be a taste of the hope we have in Christ. Moving from fear to hope is our task. And that is the theme of our first conference to be held this week, September 20-22, 2018. Over 150 attendees will gather to learn more about practicing hope in the midst of cultural despair. We’re all struggling toward hope. I hope that you’ll continue on this journey with us—practicing, praying, loving, experiencing Christ’s power—as, together, we persistently move from fear to hope.   
Jesus Invites Us into “the Politics of the Trinity”
March 14, 2018 | Michael Gulker
Jesus Invites Us into “the Politics of the Trinity”
As we reflect on Jesus’ death and resurrection, my thoughts go to his disciples and their wild hopes to reign with the Messiah—hopes grievously dashed on Good Friday. The disciples were as ideologically diverse and divided as we are today, and they wanted power and victory to support their own priorities and agendas. Jesus, in obedience to God and through the power of the Holy Spirit, does something utterly new. He pours out his life for love. Forty days later, those same disciples gather together—hiding, afraid, and probably still divided—and something new happens to them, too. The Holy Spirit comes upon them and empowers them to proclaim and embody the good news. They become united to the cause of Christ. Today, at this particular cultural moment, so many of us are afraid that everything is coming apart. So many of us are arguing to protect what we have, what we believe, and what we love. We all believe, and argue, that ours is the right way and that Jesus is on our side. But Scripture shows us that the life that Jesus offers us is deeper than that. He doesn’t argue ideology or promote one political platform over another. He presents his own politics, and it’s the politics of the Trinity. Rather than power against power, this “politics” is characterized by an eternal and delightful self-giving love. Jesus does not just tell the truth about God’s love—he embodies it. His goal is not to win arguments protecting the truth—rather, he lays down his life so that the world might know and love God. Through self-giving love he demonstrates that he is from God and that he and God are one. He invites us into the eternal and delightful love of the Trinity. The love of the Trinity cannot be stopped by hateful division, fearful darkness—not even death. What if we were to live together that way? What if we were to love each other—love those who disagree with us—that way? What might happen? What new thing might break forth? What good news could we share? I can think of a thousand rebuttals to every one of these questions. Over the past seven years at The Colossian Forum, I’ve heard them all. I’ve thought them all myself. Like Peter, I follow Jesus to the courtyard, but then I turn away. I don’t want to follow where he is going. It seems insane. What good can it do? And I deny. But Jesus doesn’t give up on me. He lets my denial crucify him once again. But my betrayal doesn’t stop the love between Father, Son, and Spirit. I am still invited into the life of the Trinity. Jesus reflects “the politics of the Trinity” when he turns to me and asks, do you love me? Feed my sheep. Do you love your neighbor? Feed my sheep. There are so many lost, fearful sheep right now! So many people are afraid that everything is coming apart. So many of us are fighting to protect what we have, what we believe, and what we love. On Good Friday Jesus demonstrates that he doesn’t need to be defended. The church doesn’t need to be defended. Church doctrine doesn’t need to be defended. We don’t have to be afraid that the truth of the gospel will be lost by those who get it wrong. Rather, we are called to obey, follow Jesus, and lay down our lives and love both our friends and enemies. It’s a hard message—one that’s easy to walk away from through denial or distraction. Ultimately, it’s a message of the self-giving, delightful love of the Trinity—the politics of a new kingdom. My prayer is that together we will begin to embrace and embody this hard but joyful and life-giving message.
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.