Archive for May 2014

Wait in Patience

Art thou in the darkness? Mind it not, for if thou dost it will feed thee more. But stand still, and act not, and wait in patience, till light arises out of darkness and leads thee. James Nayler (1659)

When we are facing spiritual darkness and despair, there are several ways that we can choose to react. One coping mechanism is denial. When confronted with realities that are too difficult to bear, we shut them out. We look away from the truth of our lives, and do our best to carry on as if everything were normal. Unfortunately, this veneer of normalcy is a lie. Our denial does not keep the darkness at bay, it merely covers it with another layer of untruth. The damage continues to be done, even if we refuse to see it.

Another way of dealing with the darkness is to wallow in it. Rather than covering up our pain, we accentuate it. We define ourselves by it. We come to think of ourselves as victims, tortured souls who blame the universe, other people, God himself, for the pain we feel. Yet, despite the fleeting catharsis of blaming others, we are unable to escape from t he darkness this way. The more we wallow, the more tightly it clings to us, defining our lives.

The early Quaker movement discovered that there is a third way to respond to the presence of darkness in our lives. Rather than denying its existence, the early Friends embraced the reality of darkness within the human heart and in society. They refused to hide from the truth. Yet, they also avoided the self-justifying fatalism of the wallowing soul. Blaming others would not solve anything. The Quaker movement insisted that the individual must take responsibility for his part in the darkness, and move toward the light.

This third way – neither denial of nor surrender to the darkness – is beautifully described in the words of James Nayler as waiting in patience. By standing still in the light of Jesus, consenting to see the darkness for what it was, early Quakers discovered the truth of their own fallen condition. And by acting not, waiting in patience, they were able to avoid the self-pity and blaming stance of the wallowing soul.

Today, just as in the days of the early Quaker movement, there is a light that arises out of darkness to lead us – the very presence and Spirit of Jesus Christ. In him, God gives us power to chart a course through through our self-destructive tendencies to blame and deny. Being led by the light of Jesus, we can face those things which terrify us the most, and be made whole.

 

Releasing Ministry – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #64

It’s always revealing to take an honest look at the way we spend our money. It exposes our true priorities. We spend money on the things that we truly care about. Money is a powerful sign of what we value. Everyone understands the phrase, put your money where your mouth is. It’s one thing to say you believe in something; it’s another thing give of our time, energy, and financial resources.

Friends of Jesus is growing and deepening as a community, and we’re having conversations about how we use all of our resources – time, money, energy and love – to make the kingdom of God visible, to become friends of Jesus in every aspect of our lives. As we seek to be faithful in these conversations, we’re coming to some exciting conclusions.

We feel that God is inviting us to use our financial resources to actively release ministry among us. To this end, Friends of Jesus – DC Metro Area and the wider Friends of Jesus Fellowship are uniting to financially support the ministry that I am carrying out under their care.

This financially released ministry will encourage leadership development, creative outreach, care for the Friends of Jesus Fellowship as a whole, and a renewed engagement with the Religious Society of Friends. This is a ministry that calls us to lives of radical discipleship and love in the Spirit. In cooperation with the Friends of Jesus Fellowship, I will continue to encourage and seed new communities across the United States, and possibly beyond.

As we begin this journey together, Friends of Jesus has already made a substantial commitment to nurturing this ministry. In addition to creating the support structures necessary to provide logistical support and spiritual accountability, members of the Friends of Jesus community have already committed nearly 1/3 of the annual giving that will be required to sustain the ministry.

But we are still a small fellowship. In addition to the demonstrated commitment of our core communities, we need significant help from the wider body of Christ. We have faith that God will touch the hearts of many Friends as they become aware of the need to release this ministry from financial burdens. Are you one of those Friends?

Is the Spirit inviting you to become a supporter of this ministry? There are many ways to get involved, whether through prayer, participation in the community, outreach, or financial giving. We encourage you to:

I’m so grateful for those who have been supporting this ministry for years now with prayers, words of encouragement, and participation in our life as a community. Thank you for considering how you might be led to take part in the days ahead.

In hope and friendship,

Micah Bales

Donate

Truth Behind the Headlines

We must hold the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. – Karl Barth

Every morning I wake up, make my tea, and sit down at the breakfast table with the latest edition of The Washington Post. I usually read the A Section, news about what is happening in across the nation and around the world.

Reading the paper might not be the most relaxing morning activity I could choose. As my wife Faith can attest, I frequently get into arguments with the Post. I notice editorial slants in supposedly fact-based articles. I observe the selection of where different stories are placed – and what news even gets coverage at all. I try to see the story behind the story, even when the storytellers get in the way.

When I read the newspaper, I know that I can’t simply accept everything I read at face value. Even when all the facts are correct, different parts of the story are highlighted with intention. What’s important to the writers at The Washington Post is not always what I consider most important. Sometimes, mere facts can be employed to hide the truth.

After I finish my tea and newspaper, I move to the living room for my morning devotions. This often involves reading the Bible. What a contrast to The Washington Post! Rather than reading with skepticism, I can let down my guard and engage the text with trust. Just like the Post, the authors of the Bible have an agenda. Different texts are edited and arranged in a certain order. Facts are presented in a particular way. Stories are told with the objective of communicating a certain worldview.

When I read the newspaper, I’m not always sure whose worldview I’m being fed. With the Bible, I can trust that it is God’s. The texts of Scripture have no veneer of journalistic objectivity. The writers of the law, the prophets, the gospels and the epistles never pretend that they are speaking from a neutral point of view. They want me to believe; and believing, to act.

Despite the undisguised agenda of the biblical writers, the story that they tell is true. The bias of Scripture is divine bias. When Jesus shows love to the outcast and the poor, this demonstrates God’s characteristic way of seeing the world. When John writes of a new heaven and a new earth, I am shown God’s intention for the healthy, fully mature society that we all long for – and which all human leaders promise on their rise to power.

This heavenly story helps me read The Washington Post without being enthralled to its earthly worldview. I read of wars and rumors of wars, of great empires vying for power and politicians jockeying for position. I read of the ambition of the rich, and occasionally of the struggles of the poor. The newspaper immerses me in the story of modern-day human achievement; the Bible tells me an alternative story, one which pulls back the curtain on the power-plays of this world and reveals the humble-yet-mighty reign of God that lies just behind the headlines.

The biblical story is a lodestone that allows me to engage with the stories of my culture without being taken in by them. God uses the Scriptures to break through the false objectivity of my present-day assumptions. It helps me to acknowledge that I do, in fact, live within a worldview – not some neutral zone of self-evident truth. The Bible reveals to me that I have to make a decision. Whether I choose the kingdom of God or the kingdoms of this world, there is no neutral ground to stand on.

How do you find your place to stand? Are you able to tell the difference between mere data and truth that is worth taking risks for? What are ways that you find the truth behind the headlines?

It’s All About Discipleship

This past weekend I was up in Philadelphia for an East Coast Gathering of the Friends of Jesus Fellowship. The gathering was an excellent opportunity for me to deepen relationships with local leaders in Philadelphia. It also turned out to be a chance to clarify our core mission and values as a fellowship.

Early in our time together, Hoot Williams had all of us fill out a values audit. There were about thirty values for us to select from – things like justice for the poor, community, equality, and strong families. Each of us was asked to rank our top twelve personal values, and then to share which values emerged as our personal top five.

As a last step in this process, we went around again and took note of which values showed up the most in our personal top fives. It was amazing how much overlap there was for most of us, and it was pretty easy to determine which values were the group’s top five. Here’s the list we came up with:

  • 1. Discipleship/Servant-Leadership
  • 2. Creativity & Innovation
  • 3. Community
  • 4. Outreach/Evangelism
  • 5. “All People Matter to God”/Equality

If we had made a top six list, worship would have certainly been there, too.

Simply taking a look at these values was very enlightening for those of us present. It said a lot about our community that we made the choices that we did, and we felt a strong sense of unity around the values that God is calling us to live into together.

Over the course of the day, that sense of unity only deepened. By our last session, we were realizing that while each of these values are important to us, the value of discipleship is probably most core to who we are and the way we are called to be Friends of Jesus. In our commitment to creativity & innovation, our times of community, our efforts at outreach, and in our witness that all people matter to God, our objective is always to bring people into a relationship of practical discipleship to Jesus.

In all of our activities, we seek to be and make disciples who have the nuts-and-bolts training and encouragement to make the kingdom of God visible – showing God’s love to others, working for justice, and equipping others to walk in this way of Jesus. We share a strong sense that everything we do as a community ultimately points back to the path of discipleship.

What are your personal core values, and those of the communities you belong to? Is the work of making and sending disciples central to the mission of your church? If not, what is? And if so, how are you acting as a community to nurture the path of discipleship, teaching one another how to be friends of Jesus in all aspects of life?

What Am I Working For?

So then, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labors as God did from his. Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through such disobedience as theirs. Hebrews 4:9-11

Sometimes taking it easy just isn’t an option. The circumstances of my life demand action, and it would be counterproductive, even unfaithful to sit on the sidelines. Though I sometimes yearn for a laid-back lifestyle, I feel clear that God has called me to a life of intense activity – at least for the time being. Not all activity is created equal, however.

There are times in my life that I am furiously engaged with work that consumes my entire attention; yet, despite an apparently overwhelming workload, I brim with energy. I find dynamic power in this work. This labor flows out of a life joyously surrendered to God.

But I’ve experienced another kind of activity. It’s just the opposite of the open-hearted, full-throated, life-giving labor of the reign of God. Rather than an expression of overflowing energy, this kind of work is powered by the clutching drive of ego. It is labor that consumes the laborer, a spinning wheel that keeps accelerating, never satisfied until it burns out.

There are always good reasons I give myself for engaging in this life-denying type of activity. It’s important work, I say. I’ll convince myself that I need the money, status, career advancement, recognition, or anything else conceivable that is external to the work itself. I keep going, not because the work itself is my purpose in life, but for some other reason – usually an imagined pay-off in the future. That’s the game, as Uncle Screwtape put it.

But it’s not a game I want to play anymore. I need to give myself fully to the work that God has created me to do. I want to act, not out of hope for gain or a desire for control, but rather for the sake of the adventure that comes from following Jesus with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength!

What would it mean to let go of all those activities that I perform out of fear, rather than hope? How does my life need to change to truly embrace Christ’s purpose in me? How would it feel to walk out of the open doors of the prison I’ve put myself in for so long?

A Crisis of Faith

In times of crisis, all the rules change. Before, we might have stuck to routine, but crisis demands our full attention. We are forced to break habits, get out of the comfort zone of everyday life, and engage with a situation that will not be deferred.

There is a sense of reality and aliveness in these times. Even when what we are experiencing is terrifying and painful, in times of crisis we know in our bones that the present moment really matters, and that our decisions make a difference. While crisis is not necessarily redemptive, it is always full of potential for transformation.

The early church lived in such a time of immediacy. When Jesus came to the seashore and called his first disciples, he invited them out of the safety of the family business and into a life of adventure, to be about his Father’s business. When he was raised from the dead and sent the Holy Spirit to guide the new community, all the old patterns broke down: people sold what they had and shared their resources; women and men worked side by side to inaugurate a new reality that they had never imagined possible before. Soon, thousands of Spirit-filled disciples made their way throughout the ancient world, sharing the good news of God’s victory over sin and death in Christ Jesus.

I have experienced such times of crisis in my own life. I remember the call to ministry that ripped me out of my holding-pattern job at a bank and sent me off to study in Indiana. I had no idea where my life was headed, but I had a strong sense that God was in control. I remember the spring that I lived in the Renaissance House community, living and breaking bread with the poorest of the poor, keeping an intense discipline of community prayer, and gathering resources from the trash heap of empire. I remember those days in the fall of 2011 when it seemed like anything could happen. The world was changing, and I was able to participate in a dramatic shift in public consciousness.

God has felt most real and present in my life in these unexpected moments. The movement of the Spirit has been palpable, her guidance unmistakable. Jesus is present with us when we lose control.

It’s been a while since I’ve gone off the deep end. I’ve had stresses and challenges, of course; there have been times when I’ve not been sure how I’d make it through a particular obstacle. But I haven’t often felt the radical newness that comes with surrendering past, present and future to the control of the sovereign Lord. I have hunkered down in routine, busied myself with good activities, given myself a safe pattern to live in.

But I don’t feel safe. I often feel anxious. I yearn and thirst. I feel the sense of divine immanence nudging me to once again drop all of my cobbled safety nets and walk the tightrope in confidence. Do I have the desperate courage necessary to trust God to catch me when I fall? Am I willing to have my life broken open once again, transformed in ways that terrify me? Am I ready to live in a space of divine crisis?

It is only in surrendering my own safety, the false systems of control that I construct for myself, that I can hope to experience the true freedom of the gospel. It is a rest that I can enter only when I am ready to lay down my own works and allow God to guide me in directions I never saw coming.

So then, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labors as God did from his. Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one may fall through such disobedience… Hebrews 4:9-11a