1000false dots bottomright 219false true 1000http://www.colossianforum.org/wp-content/plugins/thethe-image-slider/style/skins/white-square-1
  • 5000 slideright false 60 bottom 30 http://www.colossianforum.org/blog/
    Slide1 

TCF in TIME

Posted by on January 30, 2015

The Colossian Forum’s work was recently recognized by a brief mention in Time magazine. In her article “A Change of Heart,” author Elizabeth Dias writes that we’re working with Justin Lee and Alan Chambers to “help evangelicals warm to the gay conversation.” This comment is so brief—and so easily misunderstood—that we thought we’d take a moment to clarify why we’re so excited about our work with Justin, Alan, and many other friends on these issues.

It’s true that The Colossian Forum is heavily invested in helping the church engage difficult conversations, and questions surrounding homosexuality top most folks’ lists. The nuance that perhaps got missed is that our work isn’t about helping the church move towards a particular stance on gay marriage. Rather, we’re focused on helping the body of Christ, in community, to hold this difficult conversation in a way that builds up rather than tears down. This means that voices on the left and the right get heard and the brothers and sisters on the left and the right learn to love one another while still holding firm to their convictions. We’re firmly convinced that our differences on this issue do indeed offer an occasion, albeit a difficult one, for us to grow in the fruit of the Spirit. It’s exactly here that we learn to love each other with joy, peace, patience, and so on (Gal. 5:22-23). As we hold to our convictions—though they differ widely—we have the unique opportunity to also hold to the deep truth that in Christ “all things hold together” (Col. 1:17).

In the summer of 2014, we hosted a weeklong Colossian Forum with Christian scholars and leaders on the topic of human sexuality. Some of these leaders rarely have opportunities to speak forthrightly from their very different convictions, to listen carefully to each other, and to worship our one Lord together. As part of that event, we invited local Christians to join us for an evening of worship and conversation. Our participants continued their exchange in this public setting, without any script, but with faith overcoming their trepidation. It was far from perfect, of course, with creaky floors and glaring lights serving as backdrops to painful questions and sometimes strained responses. We’ve still got a lot to learn and more voices to include, but in the midst of it all, the Holy Spirit’s presence was evident and it was a remarkable evening. As participants worked to extend grace to one another, even while maintaining strongly opposing viewpoints, the fruit of the Spirit was on display in beautiful ways. And because of it, the audience got to see something different from the typical FOX/MSNBC bickering: brothers and sisters in Christ modeling his love across their disagreements, thereby pointing to something deeper and richer than either one side or the other could have alone.

The folks who attended the event as observers overwhelmingly described this as a positive first step, a faithful model of engaging difference as an opportunity for discipleship rather than a threat to our faith. Their experience encourages us to make footage of those evenings available as an introduction to our work. These films aren’t perfect, just like the events weren’t, but then, they’re not about us. They’re about the Holy Spirit who displayed himself in the midst of the broken yet incarnate body of Christ—the church, and we dare not hide this light under a bushel, even though it will inevitably draw fire. Despite the humble nature of the films, I think you’ll agree that they reveal the Holy Spirit doing something new, making possible a strikingly different way to engage these contentious issues, one which may help us all warm to a conversation that draws us into deeper, faithful discipleship!

Comments

TCF @ Calvin College CALL

Posted by on January 21, 2015

The Colossian Forum is pleased to announce two upcoming events, hosted in partnership with the Calvin Academy for Lifelong Learning (CALL) during their spring term.

On Thursday, February 12, Michael Gulker will present Conflict as Opportunity? at the CALL Noontime Series. This will be an opportunity to learn more about the work of TCF to welcome conflict as a Christ-given opportunity to deepen faith, expand knowledge, and build community.

In March, Rob Barret will lead Transforming Conflict into Opportunity: How to Lead Colossian Forums, a 6-part series designed to equip participants to lead Colossian Forums in their own communities. This course is open to all members of CALL.

For further information, visit the event pages linked above or the TCF Events Page.

Comments

Evolution and Christian Faith – Two Upcoming Conferences

Posted by on January 15, 2015

If you’re interested in exploring evolution in the light of Christian faith, this is your year! We’d like to share information about two upcoming conferences designed specifically to help the church navigate the conflicts that arise around this issue.

As TCF wraps up a three-year academic project on the topic of Evolution and Christian Faith (ECF), we’re bringing together our team of scholars to present and discuss their findings. Our scholars have been researching and reflecting on the implications of evolutionary theory for the Christian faith, and have drawn a wide range of conclusions. The conversations surrounding these conclusions promise to be engaging and enlightening! This conference will be hosted by The Colossian Forum in collaboration with Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and is scheduled for March 26-28, 2015.

Our ECF project was funded by BioLogos, an organization that invites the church and the world to see the harmony between science and biblical faith, while presenting an evolutionary understanding of God’s creation. BioLogos is also holding an ECF conference this year featuring presentations by individuals and teams of scholars, teachers, and church leaders, all of whom have been working, much like TCF’s team, on questions at the intersection of evolution and Christian faith. The BioLogos conference  will take place June 30 – July 2, 2015 at The Eberhard Center in Grand Rapids, MI. Those interested in presenting at this conference are invited to submit a paper proposal by January 23, 2015. Further details are available on the conference website.

Comments

Prayer Letter, January 2015

Posted by on January 7, 2015

 

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
– John 1:15

Dear Friend,

Happy New Year! As we prepare for all that 2015 holds in store, I’m deeply grateful for John’s reminder of the profound hope that is ours. Even on those days when we feel like darkness may overpower us, we are invited to rest in the assurance that Christ’s light will prevail.

As you know, my work at TCF frequently leads me into arenas of conflict and disagreement. Pride and selfishness flourish in the shadows, and darkness can cover over all manner of brokenness and sin. And yet, when we allow Christ’s light to shine into the dim corners of our lives, our very failures become opportunities for growth and transformation. I can testify that the darkness of conflict and discord will never prevail against the light of Christ’s love.

Throughout the coming year, we at TCF will be working with congregations as they invite Christ’s light into the “dark corners” of church conflict. This month, we’re continuing to meet with pastors, envisioning ways to equip congregations for this difficult, hopeful work. Please pray with me that the power of Christ’s light will be evident to all!

 

Comments

You can transform the way we disagree!

Posted by on December 31, 2014

We’re in this together. We know that the church doesn’t always handle disagreement well, and together we feel the pain of division in the body of Christ.

But we also know it doesn’t have to be this way. If we trust in the God who holds us together, disagreements offer us the surprising opportunity to become more like Christ. Which is a pretty remarkable prospect!

As 2014 comes to an end, please consider a year-end contribution to invest in the future of the church. Together we can create a church that is charitable, thoughtful, and able to engage tough problems – a church that knows even in disagreements, “all things hold together in Christ” (Colossians 1:17).

Thank you for partnering with us in sharing Christ’s love!

 

Comments

Merry Christmas!

Posted by on December 24, 2014

Partypix
Here at TCF, we look forward all year to our Christmas open house. The treats are fabulous, of course, but what we most enjoy is the opportunity to spend time with friends.

This year, while the kids kept themselves busy with hot cocoa and marshmallows, adults carried on conversations ranging from chaos theory to monasticism to arts in the church (and many, many more). A few discussions were intense, some were filled with laughter, but in one way or another, each reflected the remarkable gift of community that has built up around our work. Regardless of the topic, these folks have shown their commitment to faithful discipleship in the midst of conflict!

One particularly memorable gift this year was the company of Alan Chambers and Tim Otto. They flew into town for two intense days of forums with local pastors, and then joined us for the open house as well. Alan and Tim have graciously shared their wisdom and experience with us throughout 2014, especially around issues of sexuality and Christian faithfulness. They both demonstrate an exemplary capacity to listen and foster conversation, building community for the sake of God’s kingdom. As guests at our party, they readily stepped into the role of hosts, warmly welcoming guests, joining us in extending hospitality.

“Thank you” to all the friends who helped to make this evening such a joyous one! We’re deeply grateful for your partnership in our work, and we’re thrilled to celebrate together the coming of Christ, who holds all things together.

 

Comments

Advent, Week 4: Love

Posted by on December 22, 2014

As we enter into the Advent season of the liturgical year, we invite you to participate with us in an intentional time of worship, celebrating Christ’s coming into the world through the following verse, reflection, prayer, and practice.

Candle flame

Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd;
there is nothing I shall want.
Fresh and green are the pastures
where he gives me repose.

Near restful waters he leads me,
to revive my drooping spirit.
He guides me along the right path;
he is true to his name.

If I should walk in the valley of darkness
no evil would I fear.
You are there with your crook and your staff;
with these you give me comfort.

You have prepared a banquet for me
in the sight of my foes.
My head you have anointed with oil;
my cup is overflowing.

Surely goodness and kindness shall follow me
all the days of my life.
In the Lord’s own house shall I dwell
for ever and ever.

Reflection
- Henri Nouwen

Somehow I realized that songs, music, good feelings, beautiful liturgies, nice presents, big dinners, and many sweet words do not make Christmas. Christmas is saying “yes” to something beyond all emotions and feelings. Christmas is saying “yes” to a hope based on God’s initiative, which has nothing to do with what I think or feel. Christmas is believing that the salvation of the world is God’s work and not mine. Things will never look just right or feel just right. If they did, someone would be lying…But it is into this broken world that a child is born who is called Son of the Most High, Prince of Peace, Savior.


Prayer

May your message sink into our hearts and offer us merciful consolation and joyful assurances of your unending care and concern.
Amen.

Advent Practice
Wait in patience today to see the Lord’s hand in the celebration of his coming. Listen twice as much as you speak. Listen especially to the members of your family whose voices may have become all too familiar and therefore ignored.

 

Adapted from Advent and Christmas Wisdom from Henri J. M. Nouwen.

Comments

Advent, Week 3: Rejoice

Posted by on December 16, 2014

As we enter into the Advent season of the liturgical year, we invite you to participate with us in an intentional time of worship, celebrating Christ’s coming into the world through the following verse, reflection, prayer, and practice.

Candle flame

Psalm 30:4-12
Sing the praises of the Lord,
you his faithful people;
praise his holy name.
For his anger lasts only a moment,
but his favor lasts a lifetime;
weeping may stay for the night,
but rejoicing comes in the morning.

When I felt secure, I said,
“I will never be shaken.”
Lord, when you favored me,
you made my royal mountain stand firm;
but when you hid your face,
I was dismayed.

To you, Lord, I called;
to the Lord I cried for mercy:
“What is gained if I am silenced,
if I go down to the pit?
Will the dust praise you?
Will it proclaim your faithfulness?
Hear, Lord, and be merciful to me;
Lord, be my help.”

You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
Lord my God, I will praise you forever.

Reflection
- Henri Nouwen

A friend once wrote: “Learning to weep, learning to keep vigil, learning to wait for the dawn. Perhaps this is what it means to be human.” It is heard to really believe this because we constantly find ourselves clinging to people, books, events, experiences, projects and plans, secretly hoping that this time it will be different…The few times, however, that we don’t obey our severe masters and, instead, listen carefully to our restless hearts, we may start to sense that in the midst of our sadness there is joy, that in the midst of our fears there is peace, that in the midst of our greediness there is the possibility of compassion.


Prayer
Lord, give us the preference and the positive outlook that encourages rejoicing over your coming arrival among us.
Let us surrender all signs of our “sackcloth and weeping” so that we may joyously praise you with song and dancing.
Amen.

Advent Practice
Today resolve to practice joy.

 

Adapted from Advent and Christmas Wisdom from Henri J. M. Nouwen.

Comments

Advent, Week 2: Claiming True Peace

Posted by on December 8, 2014

As we enter into the Advent season of the liturgical year, we invite you to participate with us in an intentional time of worship, celebrating Christ’s coming into the world through the following verse, reflection, prayer, and practice.

 Candle flameColossians 3:12-15
Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness,
humility, meekness, and patience.
Bear with one another and,
if anyone has a complaint against another,
forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you,
so you also must forgive.
Above all, clothe yourselves with love,
which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.


Reflection
- Henri Nouwen
Keep your eyes on the prince of peace, the one who doesn’t cling to his divine power; the one who refuses to turn stones into bread, jump from great heights, and rule with great power…’ the one who touches the lame, the crippled, and the blind, the one who speaks words of forgiveness and encouragement…Keep your eyes on him who becomes poor with the poor, weak with the weak. He is the source of all peace.

Prayer
Lord, help us to make our way to Bethlehem,
to the peace of the Christ Child
that withstood even the humility of his birth in a stable.
Let us seek harmony in our lives
as the angels did
when they announced the Christ Child’s birth
in perfect praise.
Amen.

Advent Practice
Set up a personal reminder of the coming of our Lord. This might be a framed Scripture passage, a work of art, and an artifact from nature. Incorporate this symbol into your daily meditation environment.

 

Adapted from Advent and Christmas Wisdom from Henri J. M. Nouwen.

 

Comments

Prayer Letter, December 2014

Posted by on December 4, 2014

… the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you–so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift…
-1 Corinthians 1: 6-7

Dear Friends,

Your prayers have been generously answered this year, as we’ve seen God at work, transforming conflict and division into profound gifts for his body. Christ’s testimony has been strengthened in so many ways, and I’m grateful for the role you’ve played in this by interceding for us.

Thanks to your prayers, the work of The Colossian Forum continues to multiply, even during this busy holiday season. Two friends of TCF, Rebecca and Noelle, have captured our vision of a church that testifies to Christ’s power amidst conflict, and they are working to make that a reality within a community of young adult leaders. This month, they will gather on two separate occasions to discuss difficult topics, and to pray and work together for a better way of facing into controversy. While so many of us rush to keep up with the demands of this hectic season, these young adults are choosing to set aside time specifically to engage conflict as a faithful response to Christ, who holds all things together (Col. 1:17). Their hope-filled energy is a great gift to me, and I trust to you as well. God is answering your prayers in the lives of these youthful leaders.

Please know that as you pray for us at TCF, we also pray for you. We share these stories to “strengthen Christ’s testimony” in your own life, and we trust God to grant you the gifts you need to walk faithfully as his child. May the gift of Christ’s birth bring hope and joy to your life this season!

Peace of Christ,

Michael

 

Comments

Advent, Week 1: Hidden Hope

Posted by on December 2, 2014

As we enter into the Advent season of the liturgical year, we invite you to participate with us in an intentional time of worship, celebrating Christ’s coming into the world through the following verse, reflection, prayer, and practice.

Candle flame
Isaiah 11:1-3

A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the lord.


Reflection
 – Henri Nouwen
I keep expecting loud and impressive events to convince me and others of God’s saving power…Our temptation is to be distracted by them…When I have no eyes for the small signs of God’s presence – the smile of a baby, the carefree play of children, the words of encouragement and gestures of love offered by friends – I will always remain tempted to despair.
The small child of Bethlehem, the unknown man of Nazareth, the rejected preacher, the naked man on the cross, he asks for my full attention. The work of our salvation takes place in the midst of a world that continues to shout, scream, and overwhelm us with its claims and promises.

Prayer
We welcome you, small child of Bethlehem, whose coming we await with quiet attention.
Shield us from the shouts, the screams, the empty promises of the season,
and encourage us to turn our hopes to your coming.
We know that the promise is hidden in the stable in Bethlehem
and rooted in the offspring of Jesse;
let us look for our salvation there.
Amen.

Advent Practice
Today, look for one small sign that God is present in your daily life. Give thanks for his presence, and if he is absent, resolve to find out why.

 

Adapted from Advent and Christmas Wisdom from Henri J. M. Nouwen.

Comments

Reconsidering the Criteria for Scientific Success: Love over Truth?

Posted by on November 20, 2014

Rob Barrett, Director of Forums & Scholarship, was recently invited to present at the Christian Perspectives in Science Seminar Series at Calvin College. Drawing on The Colossian Forum’s experience with scholars and laypersons, this lecture describes our work to advance both truth and love.

If, like us, you’re intrigued by the challenging interplay of these two Christian virtues, you’ll certainly appreciate the insights Rob shared in his abstract (below), and his lecture, available to stream here.

 

Abstract
The Colossian Forum engages divisive topics of faith, science, and culture as opportunities for Christian formation. As we have led forums that engage questions such as origins and human sexuality within the context of the Great Commandment, forum participants and observers have regularly voiced concerns that subordinating the pursuit of truth to the pursuit of love means we never make progress toward the truth. But Christian love, unlike liberal tolerance or celebration of diversity for its own sake, does not impede the pursuit of truth but rather motivates and sustains it. In this talk, I describe The Colossian Forum’s approach to engaging divisive issues among Christians with examples drawn from conflicts over origins and sexuality. I examine our reasons for subordinating truth to love and argue that, perhaps surprisingly, positioning truth within a context of love holds a potential for acquiring both, while hoping for love to emerge from the pursuit of truth sometimes fails to produce either. I will argue this at three levels. First, Christians should be careful when naming the kinds of truth we pursue to avoid limiting the category of truth to solutions to technical problems. Second, experts working on contentious topics easily fall into defensive postures that both replace self-giving love with fear and anger and obscure the truth they pursue. Third, popular appropriation of any scientific expertise that has relevance for culture requires more than assenting to expert information, for formation of individual and social life requires a range of capacities that Christians traditionally label virtues, with love being the virtue that inspires and animates all of the others.

Comments

Asking Hard Questions – Face to Face

Posted by on November 12, 2014

TCF_ECF_web-banner_croppedIn an earlier blog post, you may have read about TCF’s “Evolution and Christian Faith” project, designed to support the church in finding ways to grow in both truth and love. We’ve brought together a group of scholars to explore some of the promises and challenges faced by the church in light of evolutionary theory, and in March of 2015 they will gather to present their work. Please consider joining us for “Re-Imagining the Intersection of Evolution and the Fall,” a conference hosted by TCF and Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. You’re also invited to visit our “Short Essays” page, where we collect a growing number of shorter-form reviews and reflections contributed by the scholar team.

It is our hope and prayer that this project will challenge scholars and laypersons alike to wrestle together with difficult questions, and in the midst of these conversations to grow more like Christ.

Comments

Prayer Letter, November 2014

Posted by on November 5, 2014

O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together.
– Psalm 34:3

Dear Friends,

As I write today, I am thanking God for you. Your prayers on behalf of TCF are being answered in remarkable ways, and I am humbled and grateful for your ongoing support and encouragement.

During this month, three separate Colossian Forums will run in Grand Rapids area churches and communities, and in each of them our staff will play only a supporting role. I’m thrilled to see TCF’s mission expand under the care of friends who have taken it as their own, and I’d like to share a little more about one of these forums. Two participants from our spring Colossian Forum Leader Training class will lead their church community in exploring some of the controversies surrounding immigration reform. As you may know, West Michigan’s economy has a rich agricultural sector that depends heavily on migrant labor. So this forum courageously addresses not only a heated topic, but one that’s highly relevant to the life of this community. We are excited to see the fruit that grows out of this Colossian Forum as our friends work to foster a conversation that promotes discipleship in the very midst of disagreement.

Many of you have also participated in a Colossian Forum, or helped your own community engage conflict as an opportunity to grow in Christlikeness. You realize that this work is not always easy, and yet you’ve joined us in pursuing this vision of a church transformed. As you engage conflict with courage and hope, please know that your efforts are profoundly encouraging to me, and to the TCF team. I am grateful for friends like you, whose work and worship honors the Christ we serve together.

Peace of Christ,

Michael

Comments

Stewarding Conflict

Posted by on October 29, 2014

As churches across America wrestle with difficult conversations – sometimes poorly and sometimes well – there is a great deal we can learn from one another. TCF is grateful for the many Christians we encounter who are willing to share their experience and wisdom in transforming conflict into an opportunity for spiritual growth. From time to time, you’ll find those resources posted here to encourage your pursuit of faithful discipleship in the midst of conflict.

At the recent Annual Session of the Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference, Pastor Mark Schloneger introduced the Unity and Variance Discernment Task Force, a small team charged with exploring ways to engage difference in a constructive and transformative way. His talk inspires listeners to develop the capacity to “steward conflict” well, as a way forward in the midst of painful issues that threaten to divide. Mark then introduces Michael Gulker, President of TCF, who reflects on the nature of Christ’s sacrificial love for us – and how this love gives shape and meaning to our own work to love one another, even in the midst of difference.

The IN-MI Mennonite Conference has generously offered to share the audio of these messages with you, in hopes that it will encourage you to work in your own context to transform conflict and division into an opportunity for faithful discipleship.

 

Comments

Practice Gratitude – Thank your pastor!

Posted by on October 23, 2014

At The Colossian Forum, we create space to practice Christian disciplines, so that the rhythm of worship can transform our heart, mind, and soul — in order to better love God and others (Matthew 22:37), as we face into difficult or divisive conversations. In my last post, Practice Gratitude, we practiced the discipline of gratitude by reading and resting in Psalm 119:57-64. I encourage you to re-read this passage again now, and if you’re able, to spend time meditating on this passage everyday this week. As Richard Foster points out in Celebration of Discipline, repetition is key: “New habits are rarely, if ever, formed by a single encounter with the truth.”

We’d also like to encourage you to extend your practice of gratitude to God outwards, by taking some time today to recognize and appreciate a very special person in your life: your pastor. October is Pastor & Clergy Appreciation Month; so let’s together consider ways to encourage and offer gratitude for our spiritual leaders. Perhaps you could write a personal thank you letter or set aside some time to pray for their specific needs. Whatever you choose to do, lift it up to God as worship and be filled with gratitude and delight.

The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching.
1 Timothy 5:17

TCF would like to say “Thank You” to all of the pastors who have participated in and contributed to the hard work of reconciliation. We are praying for you, and we are with you.

Comments

Practice Gratitude

Posted by on October 14, 2014

fall-leaves-falling-5The season of fall in Michigan is one of my favorite times of year. I love the colorful leaves, the smell of hot cider, the taste of apples dipped in caramel, and the traditions of pumpkin carving and football…just to list a few. Although these are all wonderful gifts I’ve enjoyed with friends and family, I’m noticing that the novelty of the new school year has faded and I’m more tired than usual. The house isn’t quite as clean as it was five weeks ago, the motivation to exercise as much as I had planned is dwindling, and the practices of prayer, scripture reading, and gratitude are taking a back seat.

I see September 1 and New Year’s Day as one and the same in that they are both beginnings – times to start fresh and try again. However, along with the hope that accompanies this month is the frustration of defeat as I recognize my insufficiencies and humbly crawl back to Jesus with open hands. My efforts quickly exhaust me without the practice of daily receiving the Lord’s grace – “give us this day our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11).

As a community of Christians seeking to be transformed by the Gospel, let’s together turn away from our to-do lists, schedules, and striving as if they were the source of life; instead, let’s turn towards the Creator who made us and sustains us. Let’s enjoy the beauty of nature and the gifts of friends and food as a way to grow spiritually, to worship Jesus, and enjoy the gift of the Gospel.

Join me in taking some time today to practice gratitude with this prayer from Psalm 119:57-64:

You are my portion, Lord;
I have promised to obey your words.
I have sought your face with all my heart;
be gracious to me according to your promise.
I have considered my ways
and have turned my steps to your statutes.
I will hasten and not delay
to obey your commands.
Though the wicked bind me with ropes,
I will not forget your law.
At midnight I rise to give you thanks
for your righteous laws.
I am a friend to all who fear you,
to all who follow your precepts.
The earth is filled with your love, Lord;
teach me your decrees.

Comments

Prayer Letter, October 2014

Posted by on October 9, 2014

But who can detect their errors? Clear me from hidden faults.
Psalm 19:12

Our work at TCF is continually framed by prayer and Scripture, and as we worship we frequently find ourselves drawn to the Psalms. We rejoice to participate in praise with the Psalmist, and we gratefully find our own sorrows taken up in the laments so eloquently expressed. And as we wrestle with difficult conversations, we find ourselves challenged by verses like this one, which remind us that we each contribute, in our own ways, to divisions in the church.

The Psalmist was no stranger to sin, and has proven a faithful guide as we work with Christians to recognize and honestly acknowledge our own failures to love God and one another. So often our shortcomings are buried under layers of justification and fear, and it takes the guidance of the Holy Spirit to uncover them – to shed light on the darkness we each hide. And yet, as the Psalmist testifies, this work is never one of condemnation, but of redemption! God helps us to see and repent of our sin, for sure, but then redeems our failure, transforming it into an opportunity for growth in His love. Further, this astonishing grace changes us, not only as individuals, but as a community: when together we invite God to “clear our hidden faults,” we find ourselves newly equipped to love God and each other, even in the midst of our disagreements.

As you pray for TCF this month, please pray with me for our staff and friends – that like the Psalmist we’d have the courage to invite God’s convicting presence, and open hearts to respond in love to what He reveals. Please pray that in the midst of sometimes difficult work, we’d be transformed more deeply into the image of His Son.

Comments

How to suffer well

Posted by on October 7, 2014

The end of all things is near; therefore be serious and discipline yourselves for the sake of your prayers. Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen.  – 1 Peter 4:7–11

There was a time when churches spread out across what is now modern Turkey. The apostle Paul was from this region. We were first called Christians in the city of Antioch. The “seven churches of Asia” described in John’s Revelation are there. Several of Paul’s letters were written to churches there.

But it wasn’t long before the churches came under persecution and suffering. The first letter of Peter is written to the “wandering exiles of the Diaspora” in several provinces of Asia Minor. In this short letter, a variant of the word “suffer” is used some twenty times. Their troubles are even described as a “fiery ordeal.” Although we don’t know exactly what the ordeal was, we know Peter wrote to encourage them in the midst of their troubles.

Peter doesn’t attempt to tell them why they are suffering, except to say that their suffering shouldn’t come as a surprise. Jesus suffered. In following him, these early brothers and sisters naturally share in Jesus’s suffering. Peter instead tells them how they should suffer; that is, how should they act as they undergo their trials?

The time is short, says Peter, and too much time has already been wasted in their former “excesses of dissipation.” Their intention now should be to do the will of God. Peter tells them to be serious and discipline themselves “for the sake of their prayers.” They are to exercise their spiritual gifts for one another, to be hospitable to one another, and above all to maintain constant love for one another.

Like those early Christians, we experience suffering, difficulties, and conflict. How are we to respond? From Peter’s letter, we know that we are called to an intentional life of prayer and worship. And we are called to an intentional life together, showing one another hospitality, and using our gifts for one another. We are in this together. We are not called to suffer alone, but within the community of believers and under the care of God.

There is a kind of suffering we experience that comes unbidden. But there is a kind of suffering that we choose to undergo. Those engaged in the work of The Colossian Forum find themselves moving toward conflict and difficult divisions in the church. Not with unhealthy curiosity, and not as heroes. But the divisions and brokenness are the sufferings of Christ, and we are called to share in those sufferings. What can sustain us? Peter’s answer to this is to pray and worship together, to exercise and receive the gifts of one another, to welcome one another (without complaint), and to love another. Even in the midst of ugly disagreements we see opportunity for the body of Christ to become more perfectly formed in Christ’s image.

In this age of quick news, we are very aware of the sufferings of our fellow believers and other coreligionists in places like Syria and Iraq, in sub-Saharan Africa, and elsewhere. We know of many people who suffer just because they lack food, shelter, and health care. It is good to remember them as we face crises and difficulties in our situations, for most of us “have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood.” The sufferings of the churches in Asia Minor were eventually so great that, in this birthplace of the Christian church, only remnants and ruins remain. But Peter reminds us that, in Christ, even our difficulties provide opportunities to be finished with sin and to glorify God in our life together. Participation in Christ’s suffering can even be a source of joy as we await his return.

Rejoice insofar as you are sharing Christ’s sufferings, so that you may also be glad and shout for joy when his glory is revealed.  – 1 Peter 4:13

 

Will Fitzgerald serves as the lay pastor of Kalamazoo Mennonite Fellowship, a home-based church that is part of Mennonite Church USA.

 

Comments

Job and God – a good conversation

Posted by on September 30, 2014

“I am angry with you…because you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.”

-God, quoted in Job 42:7

If you’ve ever read through the entire book of Job, you may have found this verse a bit puzzling. It follows a conversation between Job and his friends, in which they wrestle with the meaning of Job’s sufferings. His friends are trying to help free him from his misery by pointing out what he’s getting wrong, and admonishing him to make things right with God. Generally speaking, the friends’ comments are spot on. In sharp contrast, Job complains and rages, blaming God for his suffering and misfortune. On the page, at least, the friends seem much closer to getting it right. Why, then, would God come out in Job’s defense? What is He holding against Job’s friends?

Drew Lewis, friend of TCF, recently shared his reflections on this striking passage, pointing out that the Hebrew preposition translated in most English texts as “of” might also be correctly translated “to.” This leads him to suggest that God’s concern may have been less with what was said than with the way that this conversation was carried out. While Job’s friends spent their time talking with Job about God, Job’s angry outbursts were continually directed towards God. In other words, Job’s friends described a coherent (and largely correct) theological vision, but in such a way that more or less left the presence of the living God out of the picture. And though Job may have been taking some doctrinal missteps as he responded to his friends, all the while he was calling out to God in the midst of his suffering and confusion. To be sure, God wasted no time in setting Job straight on several counts (see chapter 38), but he also affirmed Job’s desire for relationship in the midst of deeply troubling questions. Furthermore, God went so far as to have Job intercede on behalf of his friends, and forgave their mistakes in response to Job’s sacrifice. Clearly, the relationships between Job and God, and between Job and his friends, emerged from this extended upheaval not only intact, but even strengthened!

This passage affirms what we’re after at TCF: engaging difficult conversations – and even suffering – in direct relationship with God. While we do certainly encourage talking about conflict and controversy with our sisters and brothers, we structure our conversations with the goal of relating to God throughout. We are confident that our mistakes can be redeemed, and even in the midst of our own failings God invites us ever deeper into relationship with him – and through him, with each other. This is why we begin and end our forums in prayer, and why we often take midpoint breaks for silence and reflection. We build in time for confession and worship, and we frame our conversations with Scripture. Our goal is that at the end of each forum, in one way or another, together we might hear the astonishing words: “…you have spoken to me what is right.

 

Drew Lewis is the author of Read Him Again and Again! Repetitions of Job in Kierkegaard, Vischer, and Barth, and the forthcoming Approaching Job. He blogs at azlewis.wordpress.com.

Comments