Archive for 2014

Do I have to Wait for Heaven?

For early Quakers, heaven wasn’t a far-off kingdom floating in the clouds. It wasn’t a distant time and place, standing in stark contrast to present-day, historical reality. When Quakers said that Christ is here to teach us himself, this was just a new way of saying, repent, the kingdom of heaven has come near to you.

The genius of the Quaker movement was that they understood that all of these holy words that Christians like to throw around aren’t what is truly essential. The institutional church of their day was saying all the right words but failing to connect with the heart of the gospel. They were mouthing the words of Scripture to justify all sorts of human agendas – but their hearts were still far from God. Their lives did not bear the marks of Christ’s transformation, self-giving love, and humility.

For the early Quaker movement, the Day of the Lord, is today. Jesus’ triumphant return is not a theoretical possibility to be hoped for in the future; it’s a present reality that can either be embraced or resisted. The early Quakers experienced Jesus as literally alive, present, and teaching them directly. Standing in the power of this relationship, they were given courage to go out and radically impact the world around them.

Today, most Quakers – and many Christians of all denominations, in fact – would intellectually agree with the statement that Jesus Christ is present, able to teach us directly through his indwelling presence in our hearts. Yet, for the most part, we don’t really live as if this indwelling power has the ability to fundamentally transform us in the present tense.

In a lot of Christian circles – including Quaker ones – I often hear the phrase, now but not yet. This is the idea that, although the kingdom is present, and we can experience a foretaste of it in our lives, we’ll have to wait until some unspecified future time – probably after we’re dead – to participate in the full transformation that we are called to in Christ.

This popular meantime theology makes a whole lot of sense. After all, how many holy people do you personally know? Our world is fundamentally fallen and broken, and this life will always be characterized by a personal and collective struggle with sin and death. The gospel gives us hope for a future, but in the present all we can do is seek to lead slightly less alienated lives, to mitigate the effects of sin.

Meantime theology is a thoughtful, rational, sensible theory that jives with what we observe in the world around us. And it runs totally counter to the radical, apocalyptic, fire-breathing witness of the early church and the later Quaker movement.

A meantime ideology might make us feel better about our failure to address the brokenness of our own lives and the systematic injustice and oppression that we see in our culture. We don’t have to feel personally responsible for the way things are going; there’s nothing we can really do about it. Christ will return and take care of this mess eventually. But for now, our role is to keep telling the story of Jesus and try not to sin too much.

The tragedy of this world view is that it misses Christ’s return in the present tense. The Day of the Lord is happening right now! There is no time but this present time. The kingdom of God has come near to us, and each one of us has a choice whether we want to participate in this new reality.

When we banish the kingdom of God to an unspecified future time, we flee from the living beauty and power of Christ. We choose to dwell in the darkness just a little longer, because we can’t quite imagine what it would be like to live as children of the day.

The word of the kingdom is good news. The gospel is not a promise that we can escape the fires of hell by accepting certain doctrines and minding our Ps and Qs while we wait for Jesus to come back. The gospel is an invitation to walk into the flames willingly, to experience the cleansing fire of the light of Christ, and to accompany others in this process of transformation.

The kingdom is an organic reality, alive and in our midst whenever we turn to follow Jesus. The Holy Spirit is present with us, not merely to comfort us in our sin, but to show us where our darkness lies so that we may be liberated from it once and for all. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.

Is this the kind of gospel that you’ve been waiting for? Do you want to experience the life and power of the early church for yourself? Do you want to know the transformation that Jesus brings, not just as a religious theory for the by-and-by, but as a lived reality in the present time? This is the promise of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Do not fear, only believe.

Related Posts:

The White-Hot Gospel

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Why does Christmas hurt so bad?

Sad Christmas Baby
Christmas is a big mess of tangled emotions, and the older I get the more I despair of ever sorting them out. Am I supposed to feel nostalgia or hope, gratitude or angst? Is Christmas a time for cheering or weeping? I really can’t tell. Maybe the answer to all these questions is yes.

The promise of Christmas is other-worldly. For this one special day each year, everything is supposed to be healthy and whole, at peace and in right order. I have visions of togetherness with family and friends, delicious food piled high. No one is without a home; everyone has a place at the table. For one brief, shining moment, all is calm, all is bright.

Even in the most secular of Christmas celebrations, there is an unspoken sense that somehow, at least for this one day, the atonement ought to have its intended effect. The lion should lie down with the lamb, our in-laws should get along, and even the most difficult and mean-spirited of us should be welcomed and forgiven. Whatever our condition those other 364 days of the year, Christmas is an invitation to take a time out and love one another.

No wonder Christmas is such an emotionally bewildering time for me! The presence of real love is destabilizing. The self-giving spirit of Jesus knocks me out of my regularly scheduled program and invites me to seek the peaceable kingdom here and now. Even when it hurts.

And it often does. The gap between the way things are and the way things ought to be can seem insurmountable. In light of Christ’s coming and presence in the world, all of the brokenness, injustice, and cruelty stands out more starkly. As does the will to heal it. I can’t take human misery for granted. Not today. Not on Christmas. My breaking heart won’t allow it.

Today, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, I am reminded that this state of tenderness is to be the norm. This is the condition I find myself in when I accept the leadership of the little child, whom Isaiah promised would one day come to guide us in the peaceable kingdom of God’s love.

This is what lies behind the potent brew of conflicting emotions. It’s the joy of the world we sense coming and the anguish of our present struggles, all mixed up together. When the longing for the beauty we know is possible becomes almost too much to bear, that’s the spirit of Christmas. When in our broken-heartedness and joy we reach out to make love visible in the lives of those around us, that’s the Word made flesh. Jesus is born and lives among us.

It’s OK if Christmas hurts, as well as being joyful. That’s how we know it’s working. Christ is coming alive within us. There’s no contradiction between the pain and the joy; that’s a truth every mother knows.

What’s the Point of Worship?

Worship is a big deal for Quakers. And it most definitely has been for our community here in DC. Between 2009 and 2013, I’d say that we spent upwards of 90% of our time and energy organizing worship meetings, spiritual retreats, and other events with a spiritual, contemplative focus. It would have been fair to describe us as a worship group.

Our focus has changed significantly in the past year. Rather than emphasizing Quaker meeting for worship, we’ve spent much more of our time getting together in small groups, having discussions, throwing parties, and reaching out in our neighborhood. We still worship, we still pray together, but I’m not sure that worship group would be the right label.

It’s a matter of priorities. For us, the most important order of business right now is to develop vibrant Christian community here in our neighborhood. Weekly worship meetings haven’t seemed like the most effective way to do that. Honestly, worship gatherings present a lot of barriers to the people we most want to be in relationship with. There are lots of folks who will go grab some tacos with us or come to a game night who just wouldn’t feel comfortable showing up at something labeled worship. At least, not yet.

So, instead of spending all our energy organizing worship activities, we’re trying to open up our lives in ways that speak to where our neighbors are actually at. Instead of expecting the world around us to come join us in our little Quaker dance, we’re exploring what it looks like to really incarnate the gospel into daily life in our city.

This isn’t to say that worship gatherings aren’t important. They’re deeply meaningful and necessary. But we’re discovering that the greatest gift we can offer as a fellowship is not a rockin’ worship service – it’s a genuine life in community, where we really come to know and support one another as friends.

Times of explicit worship and prayer are absolutely part of that mix, but it’s more like the beating heart of our shared practice together as a community, rather than the entire experience of what it means to be a friend of Jesus. We’re discovering that it’s helpful for real, human relationships to come first. We want to know one another as human beings, not just spiritual beings.

Lately, Friends of Jesus in DC have begun holding a monthly worship gatherings in addition to the activities of our local missional communities. We come together from across the whole city to celebrate the presence of Christ in our midst. We participate in a shared reorientation of our lives, pointing ourselves towards the living way of Jesus. We grow in a shared life of wholeness, joy, and overflowing love for the people around us.

Our purpose in these times of worship is not to convince anyone of anything. Instead, we are invited to become ourselves more deeply convinced of the meaning and power of our shared experience of God. We are baptized into the living Spirit of Jesus, discovering a communion that goes beyond our human comprehension – a power that vastly exceeds our finite human strength.

What is the role of worship in your life and in your community? Does worship complement and enliven your efforts to grow as a community? How does it energize and equip you to reach out and bless the world?

Related Posts:

Can Worship Be Taught?

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How to Survive the Church-pocalypse

How to Survive the Church-pocalypse

Institutional Christianity is trembling, teetering, falling. And that’s a good thing. Crisis and opportunity tend to go hand in hand, and those who embrace this crisis have the chance to make an enormous impact. Freed from the weight of bureaucratic religion and static tradition, a new kind of life can emerge.

Now is the time to carry out bold experiments in Christian discipleship.  We’re living in a very interesting moment, an in-between space where the shell of the old order has not yet completely crumbled, and the little seedlings of the new are just barely peeking up from beneath the soil. It’s an exciting time to be alive.

It’s a scary moment, too. No one wants to die, and none of us wants to see the tradition and community that has been so life-giving for us go up in the next forest fire. We’d rather keep throwing water on dead wood than face the chaos and uncertainty that would come with that conflagration.

But what if we welcomed the flames? Instead of trying to save the forest as we have known it, what if we opened ourselves to the possibilities that come from newly cleared horizons?

How would our lives change if we came to see ourselves as the instigators of something new? Rather than the exhausting rearguard action that many of us are now engaged in, what if we stopped trying to prop up the old order? Some of our cherished organizations we would need to lay down. Many of our congregations would need to be radically re-organized. Cherished habits and assumptions would be shaken up. Sounds terrifying. Sounds like fun!

We all look back to the white-hot movements that shook the world. Whether it’s the early Quakers, the Reformers, or the early Church – we are inspired by the boldness of these now-mythical bands of saints who risked everything for their faith. One thing that all of them have in common is that those who experienced them were convinced that the Spirit should triumph over the Letter.

All truly apostolic movements are marked by holy mischief. When we’re living in the power of Jesus, we can’t help getting into trouble. The first Christians abandoned both the pagan and Jewish customs that were getting between them and a more living experience of God. The early Quakers were beaten, imprisoned, and killed for actively challenging the powers that be.

Holy rebels in every age have sown the seeds of new life, joyfully subverting the status quo. We break up the hardened ground of ossified tradition and decadent authority. We risk our lives, our fortunes, our very identities to be faithful to the new thing that Christ is doing in our midst. Knowing that the way of Jesus comes with persecutions, we embrace the life of discipleship as a path to expressing the love we receive in him.

This is an invitation. You and I can be part of this new thing that God is doing. We can participate in a movement that will shape the face of the world for generations to come. We can choose to side with the new life that is brewing, down at the grassroots. In the face of misunderstanding and resistance, even hostility and fear, we can become children of light.

What does this look like for you? What are the signs of new life that are sprouting in your neighborhood, your city? What opportunities are there for you in this time of uncertainty and transition? How might you need to change in order to be faithful to this new movement that is emerging in the shadow of the present order? What in you needs to die so that Christ can live?

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Your Guide to Quaker Worship (Free eBook) is Ready!

Are you ready to go deeper?

We live in a world that is running on sensory overload. It seems like there’s always something else to do, another task to accomplish or spectacle to be witnessed. But what would it be like to just stop and breathe? What would we find there, in the silence?

In such a noisy society, the practice of Quaker worship is subversive. In a culture of workaholism, our faith can easily become just another project that we work on. But what if the spiritual life plays by different rules?

Quaker worship offers a doorway into a more centered, grounded, Spirit-led experience.

The Quaker practice of contemplative worship is not limited to official meetings on Sunday morning. This shared experience of spiritual power can take place anytime, anywhere, with anyone who is ready to seek God’s presence with a group of like-hearted friends. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them.

Do you desire to know God in an experiential way, to feel the Spirit’s power moving in your life? Quaker worship can help.

You don’t need to be a Quaker to do Quaker worship. You don’t even need to be a religious person. Quaker worship is useful for people in every stage of the spiritual journey. If your heart is open to what God might show you and how God might change you, that’s more than enough to get started.

A Guide to Quaker Worship explains in simple, everyday language exactly how this traditional form of shared contemplative worship works. After reading it, you and a few friends can try Quaker worship for yourselves.

Ready to learn more?

Just type in your name and email address, and I’ll send you a free copy of A Guide to Quaker Worship. As a bonus, you’ll be signed up for email updates that will encourage and equip you in your journey of friendship with Jesus.




The Lamb’s War is Dead. Long Live the Lamb’s War!

The Lamb's War is Dead. Long Live the Lamb's War!
I launched The Lamb’s War as a way to express my own experience of Christ’s amazing presence. Like the early Quakers, I was astonished at the ways that Christ’s light was convicting me of my darkness and healing me from it. My life changed in ways that I could hardly believe. This blog allowed me to share some of these experiences as they were happening, and to be in conversation with others who were having similar experiences.

As I began my public ministry among Quakers, The Lamb’s War became my preferred means of sharing what I was seeing and hearing in my travels among the various branches of the Religious Society of Friends. Thanks to the vigorous Quaker blogging community that existed in the late 2000s, especially the QuakerQuaker.org platform, I made connections throughout the Quaker world.

These exchanges both sharpened and broadened my understanding of the Quaker tradition. I grew more thoughtful, less reactive, and more considerate of viewpoints that are very different from my own. In many ways, participating in the Quaker blogosphere has helped me figure out who I am – as a man, as a Quaker, as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

As the years have gone by, my writing has become less sporadic, more disciplined, and increasingly focused on serving my readers. While I began this blog as a way to express myself and share my observations, today I am mostly focused on encouraging and equipping a growing movement of radical disciples.

A Bigger Mission

The Lamb’s War is no longer just about me, or even just about Quakerism. Over the course of 2014, it’s become increasingly clear that this blog has grown into a ministry that is far wider and deeper than anything I ever imagined when I first set up that Blogger account eight years ago.

This is no longer just a blog. With the switch to micahbales.com, I hope that this website will become a resource to encourage you and your community as we discover together the life and power of Jesus Christ. Today’s transition to a new name and address represents a natural next step in the evolution of this ministry. This site is about supporting and equipping you as you build a movement of radical discipleship in our generation.

A New Resource

As a first step in this equipping ministry, next week I will be releasing my first ebook: A Guide to Quaker Worship.

This ebook is a nuts-and-bolts how-to manual on how anyone – Quaker or not – can explore the contemplative spiritual practices of Quakers to gain a deeper experience of the life and power of God. This resource will help equip you and those you serve to discover Spirit-led worship as a gateway into deeper relationship with Jesus Christ.

Is this a resource that would be valuable to you and your community? If you’re already signed up for my email list, just hang tight. You’ll get access to it via email the moment it is released.

Not signed up for my email list yet? No worries. Just go to the right-hand sidebar of my website, give me your name and email address, and I’ll make sure that you get a copy of the ebook on ASAP. As a bonus, you’ll get regular updates from this site sent straight to your inbox.

A Way Forward

The coming year is going to be a big one for the development of this digital ministry, with more encouragement and resources that can help equip you in your own journey of radical discipleship. I’m looking forward to walking alongside you as we all learn from our teacher and friend, Jesus.

What do you think? Is this ministry an encouragement to you? What are some practical ways you would like to see me provide support as you explore radical Christian community and discipleship in the way of Jesus?

Leave a comment below, or shoot me an email!

Does God do Product Placement?

Starbucks Logo SmashedWhat would it be like to go a day without seeing a logo? Would it be weird to live in a place without commercials, sales pitches, billboards? I’ve heard that in Cuba public advertising is illegal, but I admit that, as an American, this is hard for me to imagine.

They say that death and taxes are the two guarantees in life. But advertising comes in a close third. In the United States, it’s hard to go five minutes without being exposed to a commercial message of some kind. Whether on a billboard beside the highway, a glowing square on a website, or the back of your box of cereal in the morning, we are constantly being pitched something.

The most powerful ads just blend into the landscape of our daily lives, like product placement in a movie. Take a look around you right now. I’ll bet you can identify three logos without even getting up from your seat. There they are, gently whispering into your subconscious.

Ads and logos have become such a constant, they no longer merely sell a product. They’ve come to represent an image, a mood, a way of life. The most profoundly successful ads transcend the company-customer binary. We merge. Day after day, our eyes drink them in. These logos become part of us, and we part of them.

How many times do you need to be exposed to a message before you even notice it’s there? How many more exposures before you consciously respond? And how many more times must you come in contact with a sign, a symbol, a message, before it fades once again into the background – but this time, as a constant, a given, a taken-for-granted part of your everyday worldview?

Ask Coca-Cola. They’ve been working on this question for generations.

But what happens when we come to believe that there is more to life than buying and selling, producing and consuming, chasing after personal happiness and comparing ourselves to others? A tension emerges in our lives, a nagging doubt that had always remained safely in the background. We awaken to an invisible struggle.

Before we know it, we are enlisted in a battle between our culture’s godlike images – all the logos and advertisements – and the hidden, alternative power of the divine Logos that is rising up within our hearts. We are invited to choose substance over shadows, the moon itself rather than pointing fingers.

And something still more marvelous: We discover that we, ourselves, are becoming God’s logo.

We always have been. This is what we are created for. To reflect the image, life, and dynamic power of the sovereign Creator of the cosmos. We are made to become a ubiquitous sign of the Spirit that saturates the whole world with the light and love of Christ. When we dwell in the settled joy and peace of Jesus, we become an inescapable logo, ingraining the gospel into the existence of those around us.

This life of faithfulness rarely offers quick results, but we shouldn’t expect that. That’s not how God’s Marketing works. We have a cumulative effect. Our lives exert influence on everyone around us. Slowly. Day by day. Like any good logo, our faithful lives have impact through repeat exposure.

What does it look like for you to live as a sign of hope in a struggling world? How does your life bear the image of the Creator? Are you ready to be God’s logo?

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