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How Can I Stay Awake in an Age of Distractions?

How Can I Stay Awake in an Age of Distractions?
This past weekend the Friends of Jesus Fellowship gathered in Barnesville, Ohio. Our theme was “Stay Awake” – drawn from the teachings of Jesus to his sleepy disciples.

Even 2,000 years before cell phones, streaming music, cable news, and video games, it was hard to stay awake. The original Jesus community struggled to stay conscious, aware, and focused on the things that matter. Even when Jesus was with them in the flesh, teaching and leading them, it was a challenge to stay grounded. Peter, James, and John couldn’t even stay awake with Jesus for one hour while he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane!

When Jesus was arrested and hauled off to be executed, every single disciple fled for his life. Just hours before, they had all insisted they would die rather than abandon Jesus. Now where were they?

The first disciples struggled to stay awake and responsive to Jesus’ voice, but it seems like we have an even greater challenge. While the twelve apostles knew Jesus as a man, we today only know him through the Spirit. It’s easy to lose track of who Jesus is in our lives. It’s easy to forget that he’s even real. In the midst of so many worries, comforts, and distractions, most of us operate in a state of practical atheism.
Friends of Jesus Fellowship Spring Gathering 2017
This is certainly true for us in the Friends of Jesus Fellowship. We’re all tired. We get get our priorities mixed up. We lose track of who Jesus is and where he’s calling us. Like Martha, we are worried and distracted by many things. But we need only one thing.

Our time together in Barnesville was a reminder of that one Life that gathers us together. We reconnected with the still, small voice of Jesus who speaks to us when we’re ready to listen. We are part of a Spirit-led community that draws us out of distraction and into a more true and beautiful world.

It was a joy to have several families at the gathering, and to care for one another’s children. We watched them play together as friends in the family of God. Our young ones reminded us that we are all part of a larger community of friends. We’re knitted together in the love of Jesus. I’m very grateful for the grounding and sense of place that I find as part of the Friends of Jesus Fellowship.

Coming back home to Washington, DC, I need to remember that sense of connection and purpose. The distractions have not gone away. I spent four days unplugged from electronics, but my screens were waiting for me as soon as I left the gathering.

It’s easy to wish for a simpler, more innocent age. People have always longed for that, regardless of their circumstances. But I’m not called to that kind of nostalgia. I’m wondering how I can embrace an abundant, Spirit-filled life in the midst of urban America.

My challenge now is not to remove distractions, but rather to repurpose them for good. How can I use technology to foster greater faithfulness, connection, and resilient community? Rather than distract myself, how will I connect and focus? I need more signal and less noise. How do I get there? More importantly, how do we get there together?

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Register Now for Friends of Jesus Fall Gathering: Oct 7-10, 2016

Confessing Jesus in a Chaotic World

What are you doing the first weekend in October?

As a reader of this blog, I want to extend you a personal invitation to join me and the Friends of Jesus Fellowship for our Fall Gathering in Silver Spring, Maryland. Experience food, fun, fellowship, and Spirit-led worship with a group of like-hearted followers of Jesus. This October, we’ll listen for how God is calling us to live as disciples in these chaotic times. Not by might. Not by power. But by his Spirit.

Fall Gathering will be a family-friendly event, with children’s programming and a playground on-site. Faith and I will be bringing our son, George, and other families will be there as well. We hope that you’ll bring your little ones to play together with us, and grow in Christ’s love.

Register Now to Reserve Your Spot!

Location & Accomodations:

The Peach Orchard Christian Retreat Center’s address is 15712 Peach Orchard Rd, Silver Spring, MD 20905. There is both a limited number of hotel-style rooms and plenty of dorm rooms. If you have a preference please let us know and we will try and accommodate them.

Family and those with other specific needs will be given priority for the hotel-style rooms. Those staying in dorms will need to provide their own bedding and towels. There is no wifi at the retreat center. There are a variety of hotels nearby for those who would like that kind of lodging.

Sign Up Today and Join us in Silver Spring!

There’s never been a better time to experience the Friends of Jesus community. In these times of darkness and confusion for our nation and world, I hope that you will join us as we discover what it means to be the light.

Have questions? Feel free to email me: micah@micahbales.com

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Making Prayer Flags
Faith and just got off a plane, coming back from the Friends of Jesus Fellowship Spring Gathering near Indianapolis. I’m exhausted from the trip, but I’m so excited about what God is doing in our community. I want to share with you about what we experienced this weekend.

From Thursday night to Sunday morning, we came together with friends from across the country – coloring, composing, coloring, discussing, worshiping, singing, and exploring. It was a truly intergenerational gathering. We had folks ranging from toddlers to retirement age, and every generation in between. There was very little need to divide ourselves by age; even the very youngest in our community were able to participate fully in most of our activities.
Playing at Friends of Jesus Spring Gathering 2016
For this year’s Spring Gathering, we made a very conscious effort to be family-friendly, and it paid off in a big way. I was delighted with how our son, George, was able to connect with the children of two other families during the gathering. It was fantastic to watch our little ones become friends, and learn more about God in age-appropriate ways. We we adults learned so much from them, too. The children provided their own unique energy that shaped the gathering into something richer. Our community felt more organically whole than at any other time I have experienced. I am hopeful that this is just the beginning of a process in which Friends of Jesus becomes infused with the joy, energy, and simple honesty of children – who Jesus says we must emulate if we want to participate in the reign of God.

We are learning to see the world through child-like eyes that encourage creativity, an openness to discovery and wonder. This weekend we practiced praying in color, wrote collaborative prayer-poetry, sang together and played instruments, went for a nature walk, and created prayer flags to decorate our worship space. We ate together and shared in deep worship. We met together in in small groups to support one another as we seek to be faithful and joyful in the way of Jesus.
Worship Space at Friends of Jesus Fellowship Spring Gathering 2016
This gathering had a gentle beauty. It was the quiet, slow beauty of flowers opening and roots growing deeper. It was the blossoming of faith in the midst of challenge. We felt a deepening of commitment to face the darkness that we all experience, and a hope that God will provide us with child-like hearts to support one another in this journey.

This weekend, we re-discovered what it means to live in the image of God. Honoring the God-created child within each one of us, we are growing in compassion, joy, and the calm reassurance that God loves us and will care for us. We don’t have to be afraid anymore. We don’t have to bend to the world’s way of intimidating and distracting us. We can become children of light.
Friends of Jesus Fellowship Spring Gathering 2016 Group Photo
I’m feeling such gratitude for my brothers and sisters in the Friends of Jesus Fellowship – both those who were able to be with us this weekend and those who couldn’t make it this time. I’m encouraged by the movement that I see the Holy Spirit gathering. Little by little, the seed of God is being sown and little sprouts of life are rising from this good earth. Thank you, Jesus. And thank you, friends.

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A Quiet Power in Our Midst

FOJF Workers+ Retreat

This weekend there were 11 of us (plus one baby!) at the William Penn House, just blocks from the US Capitol Building in Washington, DC. We had solid representation from DC, Detroit, Philadelphia, New York City, and California, representing the core leadership of the Friends of Jesus Fellowship.

It felt fantastic to be together in one location, dedicating ourselves to worship and shared listening to the Holy Spirit. It was exciting to open the circle wider, inviting all of the active and committed members of the fellowship to participate in our shared evolution in Christ. I feel grateful for the attention, creativity, and joy that each person brought to our time together.

We did some fairly intense discernment about how God is calling us to move forward in the days ahead. How does the Spirit want to use us? What is the unique gift that Friends of Jesus is called to give the world? How will we need to change our lives to embrace this exciting challenge?

While we didn’t receive any shocking new revelations this weekend, there was a quiet power in our midst. Our roots are growing deeper. We can feel more clearly our shared sense of purpose. The Spirit is inviting us into a shared life of prayer, community, and prophetic action, demonstrating the reign of God through our transformed lives.

We are on the edge of something crucial. We’re beginning to understand more fully the kind of radical life change that following Jesus will require of us in the days ahead. It’s time for us to count the cost, to consider whether we are truly prepared to go all the way with Jesus. It will cost us everything – all of our sense of boundaries and control over our lives – but he has promised that we will receive so much more if we have the courage to follow him.

Are you ready to get involved in this community? I hope you’ll join us for the Friends of Jesus Fellowship Spring Gathering this May 12-15 near Indianapolis. Watch for more details soon.

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Whats Next for Friends of Jesus?

This weekend, the core leaders of the Friends of Jesus Fellowship will be gathering in Washington, DC. This is a special retreat, to consider how God is calling us to move ahead as a community in the months and years to come. This gathering comes at an pivotal moment for Friends of Jesus, which has grown and evolved in exciting, surprising, and sometimes uncomfortable ways over the course of the last several years.

Since our early days gathering in Barnesville, Ohio, we’ve expanded beyond our original communities in Detroit and DC. We are now made up of disciples from across the eastern United States – including hot spots like Philadelphia and New York City. At the same time, we’ve struggled to really gather momentum in any one location. All of our local communities remain quite small, and we struggle to find the critical mass that is required to develop sustainable congregations.

We’ve all learned so much in the last few years together. We’v gained so much insight into both what to do, and what not to do. We’ve grown in our gifts as individuals, and we’ve bonded deeply as a scattered band of brothers and sisters in the way of Christ. Together, we have begun to learn what it means to live as friends and followers of the risen Jesus, and how we are called to live that out in our daily lives.

Last September at our Fall Gathering, there was a growing sense that God is asking something new of us. We’ve come a long way together in a very short time, but the journey ahead is going to look different. Our faithfulness to the Spirit will require that we move in new directions, ones that perhaps never occurred to us when we first started gathering as Friends of Jesus. The next steps forward for the Friends of Jesus Fellowship will be different from those that brought us to where we are today.

“What got us here will not get us there.”

Change isn’t easy, but it’s coming for us whether we choose it or not. The challenge before us this weekend is: Are we ready to re-order our lives in the radical ways that the reign of God demands of us? Are we prepared to make Jesus and his new order of love our top priority, even if it shakes the foundations of our comfortable existence? Are our eyes, ears, and hearts open to the terrifying and exhilarating next steps that the Spirit is inviting us to take together?

Jesus teaches us that we cannot love two masters. We will love one and hate the other. Please pray for us this weekend that we would find the courage and joy that comes with choosing our master wisely, embracing the humble way of Jesus as our path of salvation. Ask the Holy Spirit to be with us, guiding our worship and discernment, so that we can see clearly how we need to change our lives. Help us to be faithful to the next steps that God is calling us to. Holy Spirit, come.

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The Key to the Good Life? Just-In-Time Delivery

The Key to the Good Life? Just-In-Time Delivery

At the Friends of Jesus Fellowship Fall Gathering, we were asked to share a simple word or phrase that expressed our vision of what abundant life looks like.

For me, the phrase was just-in-time delivery

This is a concept from the business world. It’s the idea that the most efficient system is one in which all resources are delivered shortly before they are to be used. An example of this would be an auto factory that received all the parts it needed the day the vehicle was to be assembled. The factory wouldn’t stockpile wheels, axles, and lug nuts for next week or next month’s production. Instead, it would rely on suppliers to deliver those items the day of

Why did I choose this random business concept as my definition of the good life?

It all goes back to the desert. In the Sinai wilderness, after Moses and the Hebrews had escaped from Egyptian slavery, they were totally reliant on God. They had no idea how to survive in the desert, far away from the carefully irrigated Nile Delta where they had lived for centuries.

Once they got over the shock of escaping certain death at the hands of Pharaoh’s army, the Hebrews were assailed by doubts. What have we done? Where have you taken us Moses? Did you bring us out into the desert so that we could die of starvation?

Moses and his compatriots were about to discover a way of life that was in many ways more uncomfortable than Egyptian bondage. Sure, in Egypt they were abused and oppressed – but at least they knew where dinner was coming from. If there was one thing the Egyptians were good at, it was stockpiling food.

There were no such reassuring granaries in the desert where Moses had led them. They were defenseless. They had nothing to rely on for survival but the daily mercy of God. They were dependent on just-in-time delivery of food from the sky, a substance so mysterious that they called it manna, which means What’s that?

This is exactly where the Hebrew people needed to be: Rooted in reality. Freed from the false security of stockpiles, military might, and economic oppression. Everything now depending on God’s daily providence.

This is where I need to be, too. When asked what abundant life looks like for me, I said just-in-time delivery. I might just as easily have said manna. It’s this life of dependence on God, trusting him to provide the next step, the next meal, the way home – this is where I find true abundance.

Rather than living slavery to accumulation and self-protection, I’m invited to trust deeply, release control, and see life as it really is.

Have you experienced this kind of desert abundance? When are times in your life when you were forced to rely completely on God for the resources you needed – material, spiritual, or emotional? What would it be like to remain in this desert journey, embracing the just-in-time delivery of the Holy Spirit? Who might you meet along the way?

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Are Quakers Allowed to Speak in Tongues?

Are Quakers Allowed to Speak in Tongues?

The first time I heard someone speak in tongues was at the World Gathering of Young Friends, an international Quaker gathering held in 2005, in Lancaster, England.

It was a minister from Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, Deborah Saunders, who spoke to us with a commanding presence and a message that struck me to the heart. She called us to know who we are, to be grounded in the life and power of God, to live without being rocked by every new voice we heard. She called us to a life of guts, grit, and courage.

I didn’t realize that she was speaking in tongues at the time. I just thought I couldn’t understand some of what she was saying. But those sessions were recorded, and I listened to the audio many times in the years following the gathering. Eventually, after listening to the same sermon a half dozen times or more, I figured out what was happening. This Quaker minister was speaking in the voice of the tradition where she had come to Christ, in the Pentecostal stream.

After that, I didn’t run into the gift of tongues again for a very long time. I wasn’t involved in charismatic/Pentecostal circles, so it didn’t come up. Not until last year, at the Northeast Christ-Centered Friends Gathering in New York State. There, I came into contact Quakers who had been impacted by the charismatic renewal. During prayer time, they spoke in tongues.

It was wild.

They didn’t make a big deal of it. They weren’t ostentatious, nor did they expect anyone else to join them in their prayer language. But for someone like me with little experience of such phenomena, it was eye opening. I didn’t know such things could happen among Friends, and I honestly didn’t know what to make of it. I was both intrigued and slightly uncomfortable.

And then tongues came even closer. At the 2014 Fall Gathering of the Friends of Jesus Fellowship, we experienced a critical mass of charismatic Friends. During one prayer time in particular, there was an outpouring of ecstatic utterance, with perhaps about a third of those gathered actively speaking in tongues.

I didn’t. In fact, I had a tough time not laughing while others were praying in unknown languages. I don’t know why I had the almost uncontainable impulse to laugh. I think I was mostly nervous. To have half a dozen of my brothers and sisters praying in tongues was simply something I had never experienced before. But there’s no doubt that the spiritual temperature in the room was off the charts. It really felt like God was moving, and who was I to stop Christ’s mouth?

Who’s Afraid of Tongues?

I recently learned that a visitor to our 2015 Spring Gathering experienced discomfort at the fact that speaking in tongues appeared to be a central part of the Friends of Jesus Fellowship. It seems that some of the folks who joined us for the weekend were unnerved by the fact that glossolalia was present in some of our prayer sessions.

I can understand why. It makes me uncomfortable, and I know this community intimately! I can only imagine how it must have felt for those who had neither a background with tongues, nor with the community where they were being unexpectedly spoken. It was probably pretty unnerving.

But what is so threatening about speaking in tongues? I have several guesses.

One is that, perhaps, speaking in tongues is seen as being exclusive. Not everyone speaks in tongues, and some brands of Pentecostalism hold that those who do not practice tongues-speaking are not actually saved. That would be pretty alienating, to say the least. I know I wouldn’t want to be part of any community that judged people’s spiritual lives based on whether or not they spoke in tongues. Especially since I never have!

Another reason that I think many folks – Quakers in particular – might have qualms with speaking in tongues, is that it is seen as being overly emotional, even irrational. 

I can understand why many would come to that conclusion – especially Quakers, who tend to shy away from strong expressions of feeling. The act of speaking in tongues is profoundly non-rational. It’s about something that goes beyond normal human understanding, delving into the realm of the unconscious and supernatural. For those who value reason above all, speaking in tongues must seem profoundly dangerous.

When Are Tongues OK?

I don’t understand this whole speaking in tongues thing. I have never spoken in unknown languages, and it’s not a gift I’m actively seeking. Yet there are some in my community who do sometimes speak in tongues. It’s a significant part of their spiritual experience and personal prayer life. Sometimes it comes out in worship.

I’m proud of my community. Friends of Jesus Fellowship isn’t obsessed with charismatic expressions. We’re not chasing after exotic gifts and wonders. At the same time, we don’t flee from them when they do occur. On the contrary, our 2014 Fall Gathering was edified by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, expressed in large part through the ecstatic prayer and non-rational utterances by several of our brothers and sisters.

I don’t have to understand speaking in tongues to know that it felt healthy when others did. I don’t have to pretend I’m comfortable with tongues to welcome these gifts into our community.

This was never about being comfortable, anyway. I learned a long time ago that it’s those times when I’m stretched beyond my comfort zone that God is doing really important work in me. If our community is stretched and challenged by the emergence of charismatic gifts among us, perhaps this an opportunity for spiritual growth on a mass scale.

I’m down for that.

What’s your experience of the charismatic gifts – tongues, healing, prophecy, and more? Do such gifts have a place among Friends? Do these expressions make you uncomfortable? Why?

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