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A Guide for Lent 2015

Posted by on February 27, 2015


A Reflection on the Gay Christian Network Conference 2015

Posted by on February 25, 2015

Reflections_Pic_1Joyful people surrounded me, but I must admit that I felt very alone.

Many of these thousand-plus brothers and sisters in Christ had found respite from the loneliness of being a sexual minority by googling “gay and Christian” and discovering the Gay Christian Network conference. One Australian lesbian Christian flew around the world because she needed to be where, for once, people didn’t make wrong assumptions about her and find her strange and confusing. But here I was—suddenly a minority because I’m straight—and I started to understand what my Australian sister meant.

Like when a new friend spied my wedding ring and asked, “Are you married to a man or a woman?”

I felt like I was reliving my experience of dwelling in a foreign country, where the cultural assumptions and way-things-work-around-here were just different enough that I would often get caught unaware. I felt like starting every sentence, “This is probably really inappropriate for me to say, but…”

At registration, they asked if I wanted a red or blue lanyard…What? “Red means no photographs; blue if you don’t mind pictures.” Why would I mind having my picture taken? Oh…right…then people will think I’m gay. I began hearing stories of people coming out and courageously choosing blue for the first time.

When news of an expected protest spread, the GCN hosts assured us that our safety was their primary concern. I had flashbacks to visiting a Christian college last year where the chaplain told me the college was approaching homosexuality questions with one top priority in mind: “We don’t want any students to die over this issue this year.” I was reminded of my world of majority privilege where holding my views doesn’t risk my being attacked or spiraling into suicide. This isn’t my normal world, but it is theirs.

This culture of uncertainty leads me to question the little things I do without thinking. Am I holding my hands to hide my wedding ring or flaunt it? Did I just inject a reference to my wife into that conversation to signal that I’m straight? Or did I confuse things by implying I’m in a mixed-orientation marriage? I notice others around me adeptly dropping details that help others understand where they’re coming from. Every culture requires new skills.

A number of the conference presentations I hear present a common narrative of moving to a marriage-equality position as the traditional Christian position is found wanting – at least in practice, if not in theology. There’s a feeling in the air that everyone will eventually end up becoming affirming. The traditionalists are just holding out against the inevitable. That’s hard for some of my more conservative gay Christian friends to hear: the pressure comes from all sides— and from inside—to conclude that God smiles on same-sex sex.

I have breakfast with a man who invested years into trying to become straight. His story included a pattern of resisting and then falling to temptation, of running off to the city for anonymous sex. He had married a woman as part of trying to get on the right track. No one could blame her for divorcing him. I’m sad for him, but nobody needs to remind him that these were moral failures—he’s very aware. Then he surprises me by saying he just can’t reconcile his faith with affirming same-sex behavior. His earnest struggle to be faithful—failures and all—is impressive and leads me to pray for him. He’s got a hard row to hoe and the Christian support he needs isn’t easy to come by.

One of the many beautiful parts of this culture comes from the common experience of having to hide and keep secrets. To be gay and Christian is to risk condemnation from both the gay community and the church, so most have learned to live with being guarded. So they know the other side: how much of a gift it is to hear somebody out, no matter what crazy thing they’re saying, and to give them a hug. There will be plenty of time for criticism later. So I start opening up and asking my questions and sharing what I’m thinking, sometimes saying some pretty crazy things as I try to sort out what’s going on inside of me. The resilient welcomes are refreshing.

The morning of the protest, I find myself in a tilt-a-whirl of Christian attempts at faithfulness. Supporters from area churches form lines to protect conference attendees from the protestors. Christians protecting Christians from Christians, [as someone noted].

A man with a megaphone yells at me, “You’re going to hell!” followed by “Haven’t you ever read the Bible?” Well, actually I have, and actually I’m straight, and actually you have no idea who I am. And you don’t know anything about the people I’m with, either. I appreciate the supporters who smile and say, “God loves you!” and “You are welcome here!”, but they don’t know me either. I feel alone again. But a gay friend runs up to me—she’s serving doughnuts to the protestors—puts her arm around me and walks me through the confusion.

Maybe I’m not so alone. Becoming a minority for a few days builds a bond with those who suffer these pains every day. I’m a different person for spending a few days of disorientation among so many every-day sexual minorities, as they enjoy a moment of solace from the lonely pressure of being different. I pray that the Holy Spirit is at work within me—and within these newly discovered sisters and brothers—for the glory of Christ.


As you know, TCF has begun to help the church address difficult questions surrounding faithful expressions of sexuality. Instead of endorsing one or another side, we invite Christians to work on these questions together, trusting that Christ’s reconciling love will guide us – together – into all truth.

In January, two of our staff members attended the Gay Christian Network conference. This conference gathered LGBT Christians, their friends, family, allies, and pastors together for worship and mutual support. We attended to deepen our friendships with Christians who seek to engage these questions faithfully. The experience was fruitful for our staff, although – as you will see – their reflections on the conference differ markedly. Their posts highlight just how varied our life experiences can be and, therefore, just how critical it is for Christians to be in genuine conversation with one another, working together to transform our conflicts into opportunities for faithful discipleship.


Coming Home

Posted by on February 19, 2015

iStock_house_in_handsLet’s go on a journey together. I promise you’ll like the destination. In fact, I suspect you’ve been thinking about it often today or, at least, unconsciously working hard to get there. If I had you close your eyes right now, I think we could travel there in your mind’s eye. Perhaps it’s that chair in your den where, after a long day at work, you sit and breathe. With a cup of tea in your hand, you feel it happening. You release your weight, your shoulders drop, your head tilts back, your arms rest. You sigh.

Most of us have a “sigh space”—that place where physical rest meets emotional, mental, and spiritual calm. Where, if I saw you there, I’d really see you. Not the you that you show the world, but the you with all its cracks and doubts and wonderings—the honest you. Even if we are still searching for such a space in our own lives, we seem to have a way of knowing when someone else has reached theirs. We can sense it in the way they sit or hold their body, the tone of their voice or the look in their eye.

It’s surprising where such spaces appear and I certainly wasn’t looking for one when I stepped into the Oregon Convention Center to attend the Gay Christian Network (GCN) annual conference last month. The last thing one expects to find after walking through a gauntlet of protesters waving hate signs and yelling ugly slurs is a place where souls can sigh. But I cannot deny what I witnessed. Not just one or two people, but a thousand people sighing like they’ve never sighed before.

Of course, it makes sense. The church has become a place where most lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) people have not felt welcome enough to breathe, let alone sigh. The secular gay community, on the other hand, wants nothing to do with Christians who have seemingly condemned them to the deepest levels of hell. As such, there is no place for LBGT Christians to belong. Yet, in that humble convention hall, I saw LGBT-identified people who sincerely love Jesus finally find a place where they could be.

Depending on one’s theological position, some would say that convention hall was a false space where people were allowed to openly live in sin. Others would say it was a place where people were finally free to be seen and loved as they are. At The Colossian Forum (TCF), we recognize that spaces such as these can be fraught with disagreement and conflict. Questions of right and wrong, truth and lie, in and out – all hang palpably in the air. The work of TCF is to invite people into these spaces to learn the virtues of Christ and grow in the fruit of the Spirit through worship, prayer, listening, and dialogue.

This can be risky work for those with more traditional leanings as it potentially gives a voice to sin and waywardness. It’s equally risky for more progressive individuals, many of whom have witnessed or felt the hurt caused by fellow Christians who have sometimes pursued faithfulness apart from love. But it’s essential work because it invites the church into the divide to learn how to care for each other Christianly in the midst of conflict. At TCF we regularly return to this question: how do we wrestle well with important issues like homosexuality and continue to strive for a faith that is pure and faultless as evidenced by our care for the orphans and widows in our midst (James 1:27)?

Standing all around me in the Oregon Convention Center were thousands of “orphans.” People loved by God as his handiwork, but often feeling rejected by the church. People professing heartfelt commitment to Jesus, yet remaining orphans in his kingdom. No wonder the entire hall sighed. In this space, for the briefest of moments, people were allowed to let down their guard, release the tension in their shoulders, and truly be seen.

It seems to me that “sigh space” could go by another name: home. As I stood among those brothers and sisters—those beaten up and bruised beloveds of God—I couldn’t help but feel I had come home. Sigh.


As you know, TCF has begun to help the church address difficult questions surrounding faithful expressions of sexuality . Instead of endorsing one or another side, we invite Christians to work on these questions together, trusting that Christ’s reconciling love will guide us – together – into all truth.

In January, two of our staff members attended the Gay Christian Network conference. This conference gathered LGBT Christians, their friends, family, allies, and pastors together for worship and mutual support. We attended to deepen our friendships with Christians who seek to engage these questions faithfully. The experience was fruitful for our staff, although – as you will see – their reflections on the conference differ markedly. Their posts highlight just how varied our life experiences can be and, therefore, just how critical it is for Christians to be in genuine conversation with one another, working together to transform our conflicts into opportunities for faithful discipleship.






Un Done – Part One: A Reflection on the Forum Experience

Posted by on February 12, 2015


Today I read an article titled “The Rise of the ‘Done with Church’ Population.” The article details how many faithful, active church members are leaving simply because of what can only be described as being “done with church.”

About two years ago, I was “done with church.” I hit a wall of what I would call “Christianese Burn Out.” I was exhausted from countless talks, prayer meetings, small group gatherings, Bible studies, and mission trips. The Christian world I was a part of did not connect with my experience of an interior desert walk, following in cracked and painful footsteps of the suffering Christ. Instead, it seemed all I heard of from the front was about being carried by the “arms of grace.” At least that was what I heard at the prayer meetings and church services I attended, religiously.

I grew up in a strong Christian family, and chose to personally follow Jesus 14 years ago. I have been active in ministry work around the world, and involved in several intentional community movements. If I were to crunch some numbers, I would estimate that over the last 14 years I have listened to approximately 1800 talks, participated in over 2000 bible studies or small groups, and attended over 1500 church services. And yet, even with all of this “discipleship,” “community,” and “formation,” I found I was done, or almost, done.

I attended my first TCF forum about 18 months ago. The delicious food, engaging people, and comfortable environment invited me in, sparking my curiosity. I sat facing a few friends and a few strangers and we began to share, to listen, to be together; we began to “forum.” During my first listening forum, I discovered in a new way the voices of God’s people. And I haven’t looked back since. Through collaborating with the TCF team, I have fallen in love with the “forum” model, and have had the amazing opportunity to introduce over 40 people to this new kind of conversation.

The article referenced at the beginning says “The ‘Dones’ are fatigued with the Sunday routine of plop, pray and pay. They want to play. They want to participate. But they feel spurned at every turn.” I was among that group. I felt unheard, unknown, but also disconnected because I didn’t have opportunities to hear the voices of God’s people around me.

The forum setting, the paradigm shift of “challenges as opportunities,” the face-to-face honest interaction, and the hospitality of TCF has begun to bring me back from “done.” Through the over 20 forums I have been involved with, I have heard the beautiful harmony of the voices of the other. I have found a way to create spaces where participation is the point, laughter and tears are standard fare, and where real openness around hard and challenging issues serves as the catalyst for a conversation that is never “done.” Within the diversity of experience, practice, expression, and perspective I have encountered through “foruming,” I have found a new hope. I have sat face-to-face with those I love and those I deeply disagree with, I have heard their heart and firmly held beliefs, and in the midst of it all I have been drawn back into the possibility of a new way, a new kind of conversation for the church and God’s people.


Noelle Gornik is the Office and Program Coordinator at the Issachar Fund.  Noelle has global program development, implementation, and coordination experience. Before joining the Issachar Fund, Noelle worked in program coordination for several organizations including Cornerstone Development based in Kampala, Uganda and ORA International based in Andorf, Austria.  Noelle has a BA in International Relations and African Studies from Grand Valley State University.


Prayer Letter, February 2015

Posted by on February 4, 2015

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;
all those who practice it have a good understanding.
- Psalm 111:10

Dear Friends,

I’ve spent much of my time recently with pastors, seeking their input as TCF develops a program that will help churches to use conflict engagement as an opportunity for discipleship. I’m deeply grateful to these leaders for sharing their wealth of experience, and for the many ways in which they’ve helped to give shape to the early stages of this project.

As I speak with pastors about the conflicts and struggles they face, I’m continually aware of TCF’s need for wisdom for the ongoing development of our programs. We recognize that facing into disagreements is a daunting task for any congregation, and we are committed to providing the necessary tools and support for churches as they agree to take on this challenge. At the same time, I’m deeply encouraged by these pastors, as they affirm that TCF’s approach will help them to equip their congregations for faithful discipleship in arenas of controversy and disagreement.

So in the midst of all of this, I’m particularly grateful for this reminder from the psalmist, who points me to the very source of wisdom: the fear of the Lord. As together we humbly listen for God’s guidance and rely on the transforming work of the Holy Spirit, we can rest in the assurance that he will grant all the understanding we need. As we courageously enter into these difficult conversations, we do so in trust that God will abundantly equip us for the work to which he calls us.

Thank you for your ongoing prayers on our behalf.



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!


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.


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.


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!



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!



Merry Christmas!

Posted by on December 24, 2014

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.



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.

- 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.


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

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.


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.

- 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.

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.

Advent Practice
Today resolve to practice joy.


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


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.

- 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.

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.

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.



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,




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.

 – 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.

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.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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,



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.