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Something Is Shaking Loose – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #65

Dear friends,

I’ve been getting around this summer. I’ve done almost as much traveling in the last few months as I had in the whole year before that. So far this summer, I’ve taken multiple trips to Detroit, Indiana and Philadelphia. Reconnecting with my friends and fellow workers throughout the Friends of Jesus Fellowship, I’ve felt more plugged into the life of the whole body. As I grow in my role as a released minister with our geographically dispersed fellowship, I am both blessed and challenged by the work of nurturing our fledgling communities and ministries.

Friends of Jesus Fellowship is in a state of flux right now. It feels like all of our workers in all of our local and virtual sites are feeling something similar. Something is shaking loose. There is a new direction emerging, but it’s still not clear exactly where we’re headed. This can feel scary; we’ve invested so much work into the communities as we know them today. But we are also feeling a sense of divine accompaniment, trusting that Christ Jesus is walking with us, guiding us even when we can’t see the way in front of us. We would invite your prayers for our collective sense of clarity as a fellowship, and for the Holy Spirit to enliven and guide each of our local communities.

Here in Friends of Jesus – DC Metro Area, we’re experimenting with a variety of ways of being community together. Through cookouts, worship, service projects and spiritual exploration through art, we’ve tried a lot of different ways of engaging with God together. It’s still not totally clear what things will look like for us in the fall, but we have a sense of being scattered across our urban region. Christ is inviting us to re-focus on the simple, patient work of making disciples. Beyond all strategies and programs, this work of transformation and growth is our primary calling.

Even as Friends of Jesus is experiencing a sense of creative mystery, I’ve personally been experiencing a lot of growth in my understanding of the work I’m called to. A part of that has been in my professional life as Web & Communications Specialist for Friends United Meeting. This summer, I’ve been spending a lot more time out at the North American FUM office in Indiana, which has helped to deepen my sense of purpose and connection with this international association of Quakers.

I’m growing in my understanding that there is vitally important work for me to do as part of the FUM communications team, and I’m looking forward to the months ahead as we undertake a comprehensive campaign to strengthen the organization. Together, I believe that we can energize, equip and connect Friends across the planet, and – near and dear to my heart – here in our North American context.

Here are some ways that you can be praying in the coming month:

  • That God would energize and inspire Friends of Jesus – DC Metro Area to take risks and find companions in the way as we seek to make disciples in our local context.
  • That the Friends of Jesus Fellowship as a whole would feel Christ’s power and seek his guidance in becoming the beautiful bride that he is calling us to be. Let the Holy Spirit raise up new disciple-makers in each of our communities, teaching us to embody and share the good news.
  • That Friends United Meeting would be strengthened, both as an organization and as a worldwide body of dozens of yearly meetings from California to Cuba, Nairobi to New York. May God provide the funds, the staff, and above all the spiritual grounding that Friends United Meeting needs to fulfill its mission: energizing, equipping and connecting fellowships in the name of Jesus Christ.
  • That I would find the support and encouragement I need to sustain the work that God has called me to. May my family of prayer supporters, financial backers and ministry partners continue to grow through the unmistakable power of Jesus.

Thank you for your ongoing prayers, encouragement and love.

Grace and peace in the Lord Jesus,

Micah

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Sacrificing Isaac

[God said to Abraham], “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains that I shall show you.” Genesis 22:2

I have a hard time imagining what Abraham must have felt when God told him to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac. The biblical text simply says that he responded with obedience, taking Isaac to the mountains and offering him up to the Lord. But between those terse lines of Torah dwells all the depth of human emotion that accompany the loss of that which is most dear in life. Left unspoken is the dreadful courage it must have taken to say under such circumstances, thy will be done.

The story of Abraham and Isaac is an archetype of total surrender to God. Isaac meant the world to Abraham. He represented God’s past faithfulness: his solemn promise to be with Abraham and make his family a great nation. Isaac was the future: the bearer of the promise, the father of generations to come.

Perhaps most important of all, this young boy was infinitely precious in that present moment. Abraham loved Isaac as only a father can love his son. When Abraham said yes to God, he said no to all his hopes, dreams and loves. He gave up everything for the sake of obedience.

We know now, of course, that God did not ultimately require Abraham to offer up his son as a burnt offering on the mountainside. But Abraham had no idea. He chose to be obedient, expecting that it really would mean the loss of Isaac. If God hadn’t stayed his hand, he would have gone through with it.

What is the purpose of this story? Why is this gut-wrenching incident so central to the faith of billions? What is the lesson here?

This story is meant to be shocking. Why in the world would God ask a father to kill his own child? It simply blows my mind that God would even request such a thing. Yet even as I find myself bewildered by the horror of the story, I am invited to imagine myself in Abraham’s place. What are those things that seem impossible to surrender to God? Where am I holding back? Who or what is my Isaac?

Take Up The Cross Daily

If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. Mark 9:34

There is nothing glorious about suffering. I may intellectually recognize its importance as part of my journey with Jesus, but the moment that I really face suffering is shocking. All my pious words go out the window. The pain is immediate; it really hurts. The reality of the cross knocks the wind out of my ideals. The experience of the cross feels neither holy nor redeeming.

I wonder if Jesus expected the cross to be so heavy. Did Jesus imagine beforehand how real his pain would be? Could he have known what the nails would feel like in his hands and feet? Did he anticipate what it would be like to thirst so intensely – not just for water, but for God?

Jesus went to the cross defenseless, unprepared for what lay before him; he yielded to the will of his Father. He chose to drink this cup. For the sake of love, he would endure every form of agony: most terribly, the felt absence of God’s presence.

What does this mean for me, as a modern-day person who desires to follow in the way of Jesus? Do I really know what I’m asking when I say I want to drink his cup? Am I being realistic about what it truly means to follow Jesus? Am I ready to take up my cross daily?

Gathered As In A Net

The Kingdom of Heaven did gather us and catch us all, as in a net, and his heavenly power at one time drew many hundreds to land. […] And from that day forward, our hearts were knit unto the Lord and one unto another in true and fervent love… Francis Howgill (1618-1669)

When Jesus called his first disciples, he recruited some of them from among the fishermen who made their living on the Sea of Galilee. He asked a few of these fishermen to follow him, promising to change their vocation forever. Rather than inheriting the family fishing business, they would become fishers of people.

When I first heard the story of Jesus calling the fishermen, I assumed that ancient Palestinian people fished in the same way that I do. I imagined these men sitting on their boats all day, with poles and string, hooks and lures in hand, catching individual fish and tossing them into a bucket. When I first heard the story where Jesus invites Simon and Andrew to fish for people, it sounded like a leisurely day of sport fishing.

I now realize that the first disciples weren’t fishing as a hobby. They didn’t spend their days with poles and hooks, capturing individual fish. Instead, they used wide nets in an attempt to draw large numbers of fish out of the depths. Simon and Andrew were not out catching fish one by one; they sought to bring many hundreds into their boats with one pull of the net.

The early Quaker movement described the work of the Holy Spirit as this kind of dragnet. They experienced being gathered together as in a net, united in God’s power as a people of God. Just as Jesus had called his disciples into an organic community that became the early church, Friends in the 1650s found themselves being gathered by the resurrected Jesus in their midst.

Having had this experience, these first Quakers also became fishers of people. They went into all the world, gathering seekers into communities where they could experience the unity and power of the Holy Spirit – the fullness of life in the body of Christ.

Living as we do in a society that is so focused on individual experience and transformation, how do we make sense of the biblical model of salvation in community? How would our lives be different if we lived as an organic whole – the body of Christ – rather than as individual believers with our fishing poles?

What implications would this way of living as a gathered people have on the way we reach out to the world with the love of the gospel? How might we participate in ministry that looks more like a drag net than fly fishing? What would it mean for us to be able to say that our hearts were knit unto the Lord and one unto another in true and fervent love?

 

Faithfully Effective


I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.
John 15:5

There is a phrase that I’ve heard, probably hundreds of times in conversations with folks in the Quaker community: We are called to be faithful, not effective. Some version of this statement is frequently invoked after discussing the difficulties that we face in seeking to live out the kingdom of God in a fallen world. At its best, the phrase is recognition that each of us can only control our own choices, and that we ultimately must surrender outcomes to God.

For a long time, though, I’ve struggled with the idea that faithfulness is somehow separate from and more important than effectiveness. How can these two be separated? Surely we worship a God who is powerful enough to produce practical effectiveness from our faith!

Which is better, love or justice? What is more essential, works or faith? Are we called to be faithful, or effective? To each of these questions the Spirit answers with a resounding YES! The God of Abraham unites love and justice an inseparable bond. The Lord Jesus calls us to demonstrate our faith through good works. The Holy Spirit gathers us as a people to bear fruit, becoming effective precisely because we are faithful.

Life is mysterious, full of paradoxes that are hard to sit with. It often seems easier to just pick one side of the coin. I’ll do justice, but leave the loving to someone else. Some dedicate their lives to work for justice in the world, with little reference to the gospel foundation of that work. Others pray up a storm and say beautiful words, but act as if it were un-spiritual to measure results. Sometimes faithfulness seems like it might be within reach, but effectiveness is just too hard.

But we go wrong when we try to separate out faith from works, love from justice, faithfulness from effectiveness. God created the universe as a whole – body, mind, and spirit. If we want to experience the abundant life that God created us for, we must embrace this whole. To live as Christ’s body on earth, we’re going to need a whole lot of loving-justice, works of faith, and effective faithfulness.

How does this play out in real life? Have you seen someone living faithfully but ineffectively – or effectively but unfaithfully? What does it look like for works and faith to go together, for love to give birth to the practical work of justice? What would it mean for us to be faithfully effective?

God’s Scattered People

One of the things that impresses me most about the Quaker community is the sense of connection that Friends have across geographical boundaries. With very few exceptions, I have found that if show up at a Quaker meeting on Sunday morning and introduce myself as a visiting Friend, there will be warm-hearted people who are ready to show me around their city and provide me hospitality in their homes. Quakers have a sense of belonging that goes beyond the local; I find family wherever I roam.

Yet, there is also a shadow side to this tight-knit community that transcends local connections. In my travels, I have experienced Quakers as being ravenous. We are often starving for support, connection, teaching, and pastoral care. Many of us feel inadequate for the task that God has called us to, and we don’t know where to turn for guidance. Lots of our communities, even the larger ones, feel isolated and unsupported.

In this context, a visitor can seem like a lifeline, an opportunity to make a connection with the larger body. For some communities, especially smaller ones, visiting Friends represent a chance to receive the nurture and encouragement that they do not necessarily experience otherwise. Simply by being present and sharing news, visitors open a window into the wider community of Friends; they provide a sense of access to the gifts of the larger body.

Life in diaspora is hard, living as we do in scattered pockets. We are presented with the challenge of being alternative communities in the midst of a dominant culture that does not reinforce – and often undermines – our desire to be friends and followers of Jesus Christ. We are tempted to turn inward, to seek refuge from the world, to become a cliquish subculture that promotes an ingrown sense of identity, even as we fail to reach out to others. We may even become proud of the fact that our neighbors and co-workers do not understand our faith!

Superficially, the choice to close ourselves off promises security and a sense of identity; but in the long run this path leads to ever increasing isolation, fear, and spiritual pride. Fortunately, there is an alternative to this seige mentality. Rather than walling ourselves off, what if we threw open the gates? Rather than waiting for visiting Quakers to nurture us, what if we looked to our friends, neighbors, co-workers? What gifts are already present in them to build up the body of Christ?

What would our communities be like if we welcomed every visitor with the same degree of joy and hospitality that we welcome visiting ministers? What would happen if we sought out the gifts, insight and enthusiasm of the people we are most connected to, whether they currently belong to our meeting or not? How might we be changed by seeking partnership with our neighbors, inviting them to walk together with us in discipleship to Jesus?

In many ways, this kind of life-giving engagement with our local communities is more challenging than the aching isolation that so many Friends meetings experience. The trials of diaspora are many, but they do not require the same level of work, self-examination, and flexibility that we must embrace if we are to become salt and light in our neighborhoods, homes, and workplaces. Making the kingdom of God visible in our world will be a challenge, but one that is preferable to the numbed yearning and isolation that so many of our communities are experiencing today.

Have we hit rock bottom yet? Are we convinced that the hard struggle to bear fruit is more life-giving than the easy slide into despair? Are we as Friends willing to be broken open, to be a seed that dies so that we can yield a harvest many times what anyone would expect? Are we ready to embrace our scattered and feeble condition as an opportunity for Christ’s power to shine through?

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.