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Are You Ready To Die?

Jesus told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

“This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”– Luke 12:16-21

For centuries, a haunting question has been on the lips of Christian evangelists: “If you died tonight, do you know where you would spend eternity?” This repeated phrase helped to fuel the 19th century revival movements, and spurred missionary efforts around the world. It is a question that has drawn unknown thousands into self-examination and a deeper relationship with God. For so many, for so long, it demanded an immediate, personal response to the implications of the gospel message.

For many of us today, however, this question seems so irrelevant as to be ridiculous. Far from being a phrase that cuts to the very heart of our spiritual struggles, it has been reduced to a superficial relic of bygone years. It has become a cliché, and an ugly one at that. For most of my friends, this phrase could never be uttered except in jest.

There are good reasons for this. The mainstream Evangelical vision of the afterlife has done serious damage to the spiritual lives of many. How many of us were told as children that our eternal safety depended entirely on whether we said a particular prayer? How many of us were terrified that perhaps we had not said the prayer right, and that we were destined for everlasting torment, separated from God and everyone we loved?

I know I was. To me, “If you died tonight…” still sounds more like a threat than an invitation. It feels like romance with a gun to the head.

Coerced faith bears no resemblance to the love of God. Jesus does not threaten. His majesty is in his willingness to take our suffering upon himself rather than inflict it. Jesus did not come to condemn us to hell; he came to liberate us from it.

Yet, Jesus does not shy away from hard truth. He is very clear with us that our choices have real consequences – and nothing highlights consequences as clearly as death. In Jesus’ parable about a rich man, death is the great revealer. The wealthy man thought he had all the time in the world, and that he could live just for himself. He imagined his life was infinite, storing up great riches to keep himself comfortable. He thought he could become self-sufficient.

Death blows away all of this nonsense. Every one of us could face death at any moment. No matter how much money we have in the bank, or how great our positions or positions of influence, we are all beggars every time we take a breath. The greatest treasure we have is the present moment, and the greatest gift we have to give is our choice of how to live it.

In Jesus’ parable, the real question is not about some other-worldly “heaven”; it is about right relationship, and justice. The rich man thought that he could live for himself, caring only about his own needs. He neglected the poor and others who needed his help, choosing instead to store up huge amounts of wealth for the future. By focusing on his own comfort and pleasure, he lived a meaningless and unjust life.

All of this was revealed at the moment of his death. The rich man had lived in denial for so long, thinking he would live forever. But death uncovered the truth: He had spent his life chasing after wind.

How often are we like this rich man? Do we fully embrace the inevitable reality of our own death? What does refusing to acknowledge death cost us? What if we heard the disturbing question again: “If you died tonight, do you know where you would spend eternity?”

Perhaps a better question might be, “If you died today, would the life you have lived be worthy of eternity?” When the moment of death comes, will we look back with joy on all the lives we have touched? Will we survey our life and see that we were faithful, or will we find that we wasted our precious time on selfishness and fear? Will we have led lives that were worth dying for?

Are We Revived Yet?

This past week, I traveled in the ministry among Friends in the Mid-Atlantic. Along with my companions from Michigan, Baltimore and Philadelphia, we held a revival meeting for Friends in the Philadelphia area, as well as attending a gathering of Christian Friends on Long Island. This was one of the more epic road trips I have been on, with four of us packed into my little ’97 Corolla, navigating New York traffic while engaging in a passionate discussion of the challenges facing the Body of Christ at this historical moment of great crisis and opportunity.<

Our journey began Wednesday afternoon. I picked Tyler Hampton up from the airport, and Dan Randazzo from his home in Baltimore; dinner was in Philadelphia, at the home of Helene Pollock, along with a number of fellow workers in the Truth. We went really deep over the dinner table, discussing the dynamics of doing ministry in a Philadelphia Quaker context. This conversation helped to prepare us for the work to come.


Thursday night, we held a gathering of around fifty people in a home in West Philly. Calling the gathering a Quaker revival, we sought to offer a space for transformation – a renewed encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ through his Holy Spirit. We were heartened to see that a wide cross-section of the Philadelphia Quaker community was in attendance. Locals told us that there was representation from many different Quaker sub-cultures that rarely talked with one another. Especially encouraging to me was that there were also some folks who were new to Friends who attended to get a better idea of whether this might be the community for them.

The meeting itself was not what anyone expected, including me. After a potluck dinner and a time of singing led by talented musicians from the Philadelphia area, we entered into a time of open worship. As visiting ministers, Tyler, Dan and I were explicitly invited to give vocal ministry during that time. However, the meeting flowed freely, with other Friends giving messages as they felt moved. Tyler and Dan both gave very powerful spoken ministry, articulating the depths of anguish and sense of abandonment that we may feel as we seek to follow Jesus. Though I had prayed for many weeks in preparation, and believed that the Lord had given me a message to deliver at the revival, I found that Tyler’s visceral ministry was pitch perfect. Nothing that I had been given to speak seemed relevant any longer.

This was really hard for me. Before the meeting ended, I did end up speaking a few words, which I hope were faithful to the motion of the Spirit in our midst; yet, most of what I believed God had given me to say was stripped away. For almost a month, I felt that God was preparing me to deliver a particular message, but at the last possible moment, the sermon went through the shredder! It took me the whole next day to recover from my feelings of frustration and abandonment.

Though I personally struggled, I felt that the revival was held in the power of the Lord. I was very proud of Tyler and Dan for their faithfulness in preaching the word, and I felt thankful for the hard work that everyone put into planning logistics, preparing music, and opening their homes and hearts in order to allow this event to take place. I feel that we did the best we could with the gifts, faith, and spiritual condition of those who were present that night.

Are we revived yet? That is a hard thing to gauge. I can say that ministers were seasoned and empowered. I can report that around fifty Friends gathered together in Philadelphia to hear the word of the gospel. I know that, as a result of this effort, many individuals in the Philadelphia area have felt strengthened and supported in their walk of faith. And I have a sense that the Lord is gathering a people to himself. If revivalmeans instantaneous transformation, then ours was a pretty poor example. But if revival means the steady work of planting and watering, inviting Jesus himself into our midst, then I would say that we can report some success.

The next day, a number of us traveled to Long Island, where we participated in a weekend gathering of Christ-centered Friends from across the New York City region. It was a joy to be present with these sisters and brothers, and to encourage one another in our shared walk with the Lord. I was deeply impressed by the Christian faith and warm hospitality of our hosts at Manhasset Meeting. It was also a joy to connect with other Friends from the New York City area who were in attendance. After the heavy lifting of the revival in Philadelphia, we were blessed by the sweet spirit and deep refreshment that we experienced among Friends on Long Island.

As we made our way back home yesterday, Helene, Dan, Tyler and I had ample time to debrief on our experience of the last several days. We shared lessons learned, and brainstormed about possible next steps. Even before the revival happened, we were already getting invitations to hold similar meetings in other parts of the country. At the same time, we are encouraged that there are several related movements among Friends to bring renewal and revival to the Body of Christ. With the Friends of Jesus Fellowship retreat in Ohio this April, QuakerSpring holding its annual gathering in June, and the Northeast Christ-centered Friends gathering taking place in September, it is clear that a fresh Jesus movement is afoot among Friends.

Recognizing these signs of Christ’s work among Friends, how can we fan the flames of a movement that goes far beyond rekindling the flickering embers of Quakerism? What would it look like to be part of a movement of the Holy Spirit whose first motion was to bless the world, no matter the cost? What might take place if we were willing to be poured out in order to express Christ’s love for the world? What if we released our grip on Quakerism and allowed the Spirit to flow through us, to do a new thing?

Stripping Down and Building Up – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #48

Dear friends,
After a period of uncertainty and reflection, new paths are emerging for our work of seeding the Kingdom here in the District of Columbia. For Capitol Hill Friends, this month has been one of major reorientation. Over the past three years, we focused on our regular worship service as the centerpiece of our community. Yet this month, to my great surprise, we reached clarity to lay down weekly worship. Instead, we will direct our energy into the development of vibrant small groups centered around Bible study, prayer and mutual support.
On November 4th, we held our last regular meeting for worship in the old format – a two and a half hour service including Bible reading, singing, waiting worship and a potluck dinner. While we hope to re-launch a regular worship service someday, we feel clear that we should not do so until we have developed a solid core of small groups that serve as a mature and mutually supportive basis for our community in Jesus.
This January, we plan to begin holding small group meetings once a week. We have not ironed out all the details yet, but we sense that our new small group format should center on prayer, reading the Scripture together, and sharing our journeys with one another. The format of the small group should be simple and broadly accessible. We expect that it will last no more than an hour and a half. For folks in our city, that seems to be the maximum duration people feel comfortable committing to on an ongoing basis.
In addition to tightening up the small group time, we want to make sure that people do not feel trapped or guilted into attending. We are considering how to offer small group in bite-sized sequences – for example, we might offer a six-week study of the Sermon on the Mount. Rather than asking our friends to commit to attending small group forever, we are looking to present it as a medium term commitment, measured in weeks rather than in months or years.
While our number one focus will be on our small groups, we are also looking at sponsoring events that would be of interest to our wider communities, featuring compelling guest presenters (Jon Watts, I am looking in your direction). When I imagine these events, I envision something like a very spiritually grounded house concert. Not exactly a worship service, but a space in which folks are invited to be spiritually engaged and come away with a deeper sense of connection with God in Jesus. In the end, everything we do must be about him; yet we want to engage in ways that strike a chord with the people of our city.
We have a growing sense that God is calling us to throw off anything that gets in the way of sharing the good news of Jesus here in DC. Though the members of Capitol Hill Friends are deeply steeped in the Quaker tradition, we are questioning whether many of our traditional forms, language and practices are serviceable in our present context.
Insofar as there has ever been a Quaker model of evangelism, it has generally been one that assumed that outsiders would need to change or discard their culture, dress, language and symbols before they could become part of the Body of Christ. For the last 300 years, Quaker communities have largely developed along the lines of homogenous clusters of people who share the same politics, class, race, dress codes, insider language and cultural assumptions.
We are convinced that this is not only a losing strategy, but that it is ultimately at odds with the example that Jesus gives us. As we move forward in our mission to embody and share the love, mercy and justice of Jesus Christ, we are examining ourselves closely. How are we ourselves called to change, adapting ourselves to the needs of the city we live in, so that we might more effectively share the good news?
The truth is, I loved Capitol Hill Friends just the way it was. Our weekly worship service, with its combination of Bible reading, singing, waiting worship and food, was basically my ideal format. Unfortunately, we have seen that my ideal does not work for most people in our city! If this ministry is to be about more than my own preferences – if it is to draw all people into deeper relationship with Jesus – then I will need to sacrifice my desires and preferences so that the gospel may be most effectively received.
What needs to be stripped away so that we can all see Jesus? What is the most effective vehicle for delivering the gospel message among the people whom we have been called to serve? How are we called to respond when faithfulnessdemands effectiveness?
For a couple of stodgy old Conservative Quakers like Faith and me, asking these questions feels revolutionary. From time to time, we ask ourselves with some anxiety: Are we ditching the Friends tradition altogether?
In a word, “no.” Clearly, the needs of our present context are different from those of Friends 300 years ago – or even fifty years ago. Yet we are also convinced that the essential truths of the gospel that were re-discovered by the early Quaker movement are the same foundation that we stand on today. The forms change, but the substance remains steady. Christ is come to teach his people himself, and we seek to be a people that is attentive and listening, ready to follow the Lamb wherever he goes.
As we wrestle with all of these questions, I am so grateful for the consistent prayers of all our sisters and brothers across the country and the world. Most everyone seems to agree: Washington is a very tough place to be. The ground here is hard, and we know that we cannot plow it up under our own strength. But through the fervent petitions of the saints and the mercy of the Holy Spirit, we know and have experienced that we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us.
Your brother in our Lord Jesus,
Micah Bales

Restarting A Quaker Church Plant

Do you remember blowing on Nintendo cartridges? Most folks who are around my age will remember the original NES game system. I spent hours playing Nintendo, and I can still hum pretty much the entire soundtrack from Mario Brothers. As much fun as those games were, the thing I remember best is the physical experience of Nintendo. I remember the feel of the controls and the clap of the plastic hood. Above all, I remember the cartridges.

They did not always work. The longer you owned a Nintendo, the more likely it was you were going to have issues with dust collecting on the sensitive electronics at the opening of the cartridge. If the sensors were not clean, the game was liable to have errors that made it unplayable. Blank, white screens and garbled text were common. In order to get games working right, we often resorted to blowing across the sensors. Most of the time, that did the trick. We re-inserted the game and things worked as they were supposed to.
Though we did not realize it at the time, this process of cartridge cleaning taught an important lesson. In Nintendo and in the rest of life, there are moments that call for blowing on the cartridge and starting over. Sometimes, there is nothing we can do but clean the sensor and restart the game.

At Capitol Hill Friends, we have been noticing dust in our system for some time now. Despite a serious and energetic effort over a period of three years, Capitol Hill Friends has not gained the critical mass it needs to ignite a self-sustaining congregation. We have gotten quite good at putting on a weekly event that nurtures those who attend, but we have failed to develop an expanding circle of community.

After an extended period of prayer and corporate discernment, we feel that our present model is no longer an adequate container for the work that God is calling us to do in our city. We sense that our most faithful move at this point is to take a step back and re-evaluate of our entire way of operating as a community. It is time to take the cartridge out and blow on it.
We have been meeting in roughly the same format for almost three years now: We have gathered for Bible reading, singing, worship and a potluck meal. These meetings have generally been very deep, spiritually, and have provided a lot of nurture to those who have come. Yet, the core group of CHF has not substantially changed in the last two years. Probably for a variety of reasons, we have not grown in the way that we need to in order to be a sustainable community.
It feels clear that our present model is not working. The lack of growth over the last few years is equivalent to the White Screen of Death on the old Nintendo. It is time to pull out the cartridge and restart the system. The big question is, what does it look like for Capitol Hill Friends to restart?
Here is what we know right now: The last regular meeting of Capitol Hill Friends for 2012 will be this Sunday, November 4th. For the rest of November and December, the members of Capitol Hill Friends will be doing some intensive visioning and strategizing for the next phase of our life together as a community. We will be doing a lot of praying, and we will continue to listen together to how the Holy Spirit wants to guide and shape us as a community of disciples.
We have a great awareness right now of our deep need for Christ’s life and power in our midst, and we are asking God to clarify our calling, vision and structure as a fellowship. Who are we called to serve? What are we called to teach, and how are we called to teach it? What structures are we called to adopt in order to facilitate the spiritual, emotional and physical thriving of our community, and of the city where we live as a whole? With great awareness of our own weakness and failings, we are seeking God’s way forward for us.

In many ways, the past three years has been a course in what not to do. For my own part, I see that there is a lot of dust on my own sensors – all the illusions that I live in; all the denial that I indulge in. I desperately need the Holy Spirit to blow away the dust so that I can see clearly, and be a faithful vessel of Christ’s love and justice. I have learned a lot in the past three years, both about myself and about some of the realities of organizing a new Christian fellowship in Washington, DC. In many ways, the past three years have been “Seminary: Part 2.” This second dose of ministerial education, though, has been entirely focused on practice, and sometimes the theory has gotten in the way.

Moving forward, I hope to find out what it means for us to be a community of Christian practitioners. What does it mean to practice our faith in ways that tangibly bless the communities where we live? All the teaching in the world is of little use if we are not learning how to live as Christ’s body in the world.
As we continue to engage in this process of discernment, we do have some clarity about how God is calling us to reorganize our meeting format in the coming year. Beginning in January, Capitol Hill Friends plans to adopt a new model that we hope will encourage the development of more bonded community and deeper spiritual practice. Our new format will feature two main components: A weekly small group, and a monthly gathering.
The small group will be a place where each of us can be nurtured in our walk with Jesus, and get equipped for the work that Christ is calling each of us to. This group will be a fellowship for nurturing the spiritual gifts of each person, and developing our capacity to share the good news of Jesus with others in our communities. We will seek to make this an intimate space, where each individual can feel safe bringing their full selves and find support for the journey that Jesus is calling each of us into.
Our monthly gatherings will be creative and energetic programs that engage people from a wide variety of backgrounds and invites them to experience the power of Christ’s living presence in our midst. Each month’s program will be different, and we hope to invite outside presenters to lead our time together. We hope that these monthly gatherings will be a time of edification for our broader community – including Quakers from other Meetings in the area; Christians from other churches; seekers without a faith community; and secular people who are curious about encountering a spiritual faith that is directly dependent on God’s power.
We still have a lot of discernment to do, but these are the basic contours of what our restart looks like: Creating a space for our broader community to creatively explore spiritual teaching and worship, while at the same time nurturing the ongoing development of a smaller core that wants to be part of a mutually supportive community, rooted in Jesus Christ.

As we embark on this next stage of our journey together, please pray for us. If you are living in the DC area, consider whether the small group or our monthly gatherings might be a place for you to plug in and get the support you need for your walk in faith.

Holy Spirit, come blow on us. Clear away all the dust that holds us back from growing in you.

Discerning the Way Forward – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #47

Dear Friends in Truth,

As a church planter, I have noticed that there is a certain rhythm to each year. The very beginning of the calendar is a key time, when everyone begins to re-focus after the bustle of the holidays. In January through March, new things happen in congregations, and unique growth is possible. The fall provides a similar window of opportunity. September and October are pivotal months in the life of new churches. Folks are reorienting after the craziness of summer and – just like after New Year’s – everyone is looking to establish routines and make new connections. This is an ideal time to launch initiatives, do outreach to our neighborhoods and invite seekers into the community.

For the last three years, our ups and downs at Capitol Hill Friends have followed seasonal patterns. The fall and New Year have brought new energy, opportunities and numerical growth. The summer and winter holidays have been accompanied by lower energy and reduced attendance. Over time, we have learned to roll with the punches, coming to anticipate these natural swings. We have adapted our programs and outreach to the rhythm of the seasons.

It came as no surprise when attendance and energy at Capitol Hill Friends plummeted in July and August. Not only is this time of year generally characterized by decline, but we had also had three of our core members move out of town in July. These were major losses, but I figured that the usual seasonal pattern would help cushion the blow. Things would pull together in September/October. The fall boost would rescue us.

But this fall has not stuck to the script. Energy has not risen. Attendance has not recovered. The summer slump has largely continued. This year is different.
This unexpected challenge may be good for us, in the same way that cod liver oil is beneficial – it tastes awful, but it has lots of vitamins. This fall’s “tough medicine” has caused us to seriously reevaluate our life as a community at Capitol Hill Friends. Who are we called to serve? What mission is God calling us to here in the city? What is our model for being a deeply rooted community in a highly transient urban area? How is God asking us to change in order to adapt ourselves to the needs of the culture we live in? Is God still calling us to plant a Quaker Meeting here in DC? These are questions we have held and considered all along, but they are taking on a new urgency.
I know that, to be faithful, I must be open to laying down this entire venture. Capitol Hill Friends does not belong to me, or even to the membership as a whole – it belongs to Jesus Christ. We must rely on him to show us the way forward. Whether we lay down this ministry, radically change our orientation as a group, or simply keep walking forward in faith, we must do it because Jesus calls us.

It is possible for an individual or small group to keep a project going for a while under their own strength. But not forever. After two or three years, fatigue sets in. Our enthusiasm is gradually replaced by bone-weariness. Everything seems to depend on us. Each step we take in our own strength is crushed by the weight of responsibility.

I suspect that the three year mark is a critical moment for a new community like Capitol Hill Friends. The honeymoon period is definitely over. We have had plenty of chances to see our own weakness and limitations. I know that I have gained a much fuller view of my own personal failings after three years of service to this community. The daily grind of local ministry has been powerful in exposing my true character. Of all the prayers I ask, one that God always answers with devastating immediacy is: “Lord, humble me.”

I hope that you will continue to lift me up in your prayers, and to ask that our Heavenly Father speak clearly to us at Capitol Hill Friends. We need guidance for how to move forward with our calling to be faithful witnesses for Christ’s Kingdom in Washington, DC. What form that should take, I do not know. But God does. I am counting on that.

In the love and mercy of Jesus,
Micah Bales

My New Job At Friends United Meeting

This month I begin work with Friends United Meeting (FUM), an international association of Quakers with member churches in North America, the Middle East, East Africa and Latin America. My official title is Interim Communications and Web Specialist. The “interim” part of this means that the job will last from July until December, and we will evaluate at the end of that time whether the position should continue in its present form. This job is in many ways experimental, which excites me; I am a starter, an entrepreneur and an innovator, and I am looking forward to pioneering a new chapter in FUM’s role as a communicator on behalf of and among Friends.

The “communications” part of my job title means that I will be focusing on FUM’s strategic outreach, especially online and social media communications. In addition, I will be collaborating on Quaker Life, one of the most prominent print publications in the Religious Society of Friends.As FUM’s magazine for more than 50 years, Quaker Lifeis probably our most important tool for communicating across the entire association at the present time. This is especially true considering the limitations of internet access in East Africa, where the majority of Friends reside.
The “web” part of my job will be especially prominent in this interim period. I will be working closely with other members of the FUM staff as we roll out an entirely new and re-designed website.The current website was originally set up in 1997, and although the site has had an amazing 15-year run, it is clearly time for an upgrade! I am grateful for the opportunity to be part of this work.
It is an honor to be on staff with Friends United Meeting. My faith is deeply rooted in traditional Quaker faith and practice – including waiting worship, orthodox Christian belief, and Quaker business practice – and, for me, Friends United Meeting represents the beautiful diversity that is possible when we are gathered together in Jesus Christ. Like so many established Christian organizations today, FUM faces huge challenges. As a diverse and multicultural association of Friends, we are stretched almost the breaking point around questions of authority, our understandings of Scripture, our different levels of access to wealth and mobility, and our vision for what the Body of Christ looks like when we are faithful.

Despite these challenges, I hold out hope for Friends United Meeting. At its best, FUM symbolizes what a broad, diverse, flexible and generously orthodox association of Friends could look like. As a member of FUM’s staff, I will be looking for ways to empower Yearly Meetings, local churches and individual members to live out the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. As we are gathered together in the living power of God’s Spirit – spanning nations, cultures, races and languages – I am hopeful that FUM can play a vital role in building up the Body of Christ.

In the months ahead, I want to hear from Friends about how FUM can be more vital and relevant, particularly among Friends in North America. For generations, the primary focus of Friends United Meeting has been on foreign mission fields, and we can see the rich fruits of these efforts among Friends in East Africa, Palestine, and the Carribean. Yet there is a growing sense that North America itself needs to be the recipient of a new missionary effort. What might that look like? 

How might the growing strength of Friends in the developing world contribute to a spiritual rebirth in North America? What role do we have to play in this time of great transition for the North American Church? How might Friends United Meeting be an instrument of Christ’s work of renewal and transformation?

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.
-Isaiah 43:19

All Things To All People

To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. – 1 Corinthians 9:21-22

The ancient society where Christianity emerged consisted of a wide variety of local cultures, all united under Roman rule. Greeks and Jews mingled, and the cities of the Empire allowed a cosmopolitanism that had rarely existed before in Western history. The early followers of Jesus were challenged to share the gospel message in a context where all truth was relativized under the coercive power of the Roman state. In that society, people could worship whatever gods they chose – so long as they also worshiped Caesar.

I also live in a society where people worship a variety of “gods” and participate in many subcultures and lifestyles. Yet, just as was the case in ancient Rome, the modern-day empire I live in is held together by a set of common assumptions. Although no one is required to literally worship the State or its rulers, this society is held together by the veneration of wealth and the exercise of political power. All of us, from smallest to greatest, are caught up in an economic and political system that demands our allegiance just as surely as Caesar ever did.

The God whom I worship, and the gospel that I proclaim, stands in stark contrast to the worship of wealth and human power that lies at the center of American society. The “upside down Kingdom” of Jesus reveals the weakest to be the strongest and that those who put themselves first may find themselves left out. The good news of Jesus represents a direct challenge to the core assumptions of this present age.
This is scary stuff. It is not accident that the rulers and authorities of ancient Rome brutally tortured and executed Jesus, and continued to persecute Jesus’ followers for centuries. When we directly confront the foundations of Empire, we should expect a response that is in keeping with Empire’s way of doing business.

Despite all of the persecution, torture and summary executions that the early Christians faced, the early Church did not condemn the whole of Greco-Roman society. On the contrary, the early Christian community made great efforts to communicate the good news in terms that would speak clearly to the wide variety of cultures and experiences that made up the ancient world. Rather than insisting that everyone become a Jew, the disciples proclaimed a new way that was open to all people, regardless of their ethnic or cultural affiliation.

As Paul explained in his letter to the Ephesians, the mission of the early Church was to proclaim a gospel that reconciled women and men from all sorts of backgrounds, whether Jew or Greek, uniting them into one new humanity. This new spiritual community did not have the effect of eliminating cultural differences; on the contrary, the cultural diversity of the ancient world remained, but it was placed on a new foundation. Rather than worshiping the wealth and power of Caesar, all the nations of the earth would now join in worshiping the one true God!

How can I share the good news in ways that affirm the diversity of culture, language, identity and experience that I encounter in my city? How can I lift up that which is good in my cosmopolitan society, while at the same time challenging the harmful foundation of greed and pride that has taken us captive? How can I model and preach a gospel that, rather than eliminating our differences, places all of us on a new foundation in Jesus?