Archive for August 2011 – Page 2

Asking the Right Questions

If we want to share the gospel message, we have no other option but to leave behind the comforts of a community where everyone is asking questions to which we have established answers. We must come to understand the questions that the wider world is asking, rather than expecting non-Christians to have a Christian worldview.
Some of the central questions of the Christian faith include: “Why is humanity alienated from God?” and “What must we do to be reconciled to our Creator?” These are deeply important questions. They must be asked and answered. Yet, for these questions to be meaningful, we must believe in a personal and transcendent God who created the cosmos and cares about what happens to us.
For many Westerners, this worldview can no longer be assumed. Increasingly, a loving Creator is no longer the foundation of our worldview. Unmoored from this basic belief that has characterized Western thought for almost two thousand years, our society’s basic questions change. Questions rooted in the Christian tradition no longer serve as a useful starting point for communication. If we love our neighbors – if we want to share the gospel with them – we must stop insisting that they answer our questions. We must come to understand how they see the world.
The undergirding worldview of the post-Christian West is a faith in the power of humanity to make sense of the universe without reference to the supernatural. The universe is viewed as entirely material and completely knowable by the human intellect. Complete mastery of the world is simply a matter of time and human effort. Combined with this great faith in the power of science to discover reality, there is a growing assumption that there can be no universal spiritual or moral truth.
Most of us, to the extent that we are engaged in the wider society, are caught up in this worldview that denies the Creator or any moral universals. In this spiritual vacuum, the individual is left to determine what is true. Nothing, of course, can be said to be universally true; but each person is left to develop their own code of values – their personal “truth.”
This radically individualistic way of relating to truth leads to new questions. The questions of our culture are no longer about alienation from God and how to be reconciled. Our new questions are far more fundamental: “Am I alone?”; “What is truth?”; “How can I lead an ‘authentic,’ genuine life?”; “Why is there so much suffering in the world?”;”Why do I feel empty?” These are some of the most pressing questions of the Western world today.

If we truly care about our neighbors, we as followers of Jesus are called to engage with these questions. We will never be able to communciate the gospel to our friends, family and co-workers if we continue to insist on starting from our own worldview rather than theirs. We must engage in the pressing questions of the world, trusting that all genuine searching for truth will lead to the Lord Jesus.

Summer Travels – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #33

Dear Children of the Day,

Things have been moving along at a steady pace since I returned from my travels in the UK and East Africa. Each of my weekends have been very full – hosting our Quarterly Meeting, visiting Friends in North Carolina and Philadelphia, and receiving visitors from Rockingham Meeting and Wichita, Kansas. While things promise to slow down a bit this fall, the summer has been unrelenting in its demands. While this has been physically and emotionally tiring work, it has also been spiritually refreshing. I have felt well-used and blessed by the Lord in the work that he has laid before me this summer. What more can I ask?
I had a few days to recover from the return voyage from East Africa before Faith and I drove down to Harrisonburg, Virginia to help Rockingham Meeting host the gathering of Stillwater Quarterly Meeting. Stillwater Quarter is one of two Quarterly Meetings in Ohio Yearly Meeting. Our sister QM, Salem Quarterly Meeting, is the smaller body by far, comprising three small Monthly Meetings in eastern Ohio. Stillwater Quarter represents the rest of the Yearly Meeting – seven Monthly Meetings, including Stillwater Meeting, the largest of OYM’s congregations.
Stillwater Quarter covers an immense amount of geographical territory. OYM has been growing recently, and all of this growth has taken place in Stillwater QM. Three new Monthly Meetings have been added in recent years in Michigan, eastern Pennyslvania, and western Virginia, as well as a maturing worship group near Atlanta, Georgia. Despite the distances involved, we had representation from every Monthly Meeting, as well Chattahoochee Worship Group in Georgia. It was a joy to see dear friends from across the Quarter, and it was especially good to be able to host them at Rockingham’s meeting place.
Just a few days after getting back to Washington from Quarterly Meeting, I was on the road again; this time, to Wilmington, North Carolina, where North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative) was holding its annual sessions. I traveled under a minute from Rockingham Meeting and Stillwater Quarterly Meeting. My concern to travel was one of gospel love. I felt drawn by the Holy Spirit to be with Friends in our sister Yearly meeting in North Carolina, and to be available for the Lord’s service among them, as led. I made this visit without any agenda beyond a desire to be faithful to the moment-by-moment leadings of the Holy Spirit.
North Carolina Yearly Meeting (Conservative), along with Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative) are the two remaining historical relatives of Ohio Yearly Meeting. Historically, Conservative Friends have conserved both the traditional outward practices of Friends (waiting on the Lord in silent expectation, giving corporate answers to the queries, etc.) as well as the Christian faith of Friends centered in the living presence of Jesus Christ as present Teacher, Lord and Savior.
In recent years, intervisitation between our Yearly Meetings has broken down to a great degree. While at one time there were many ministers regularly going back and forth between the Conservative Yearly Meetings, there is far less interconnectedness today. I was pleased to see one other member of my Yearly Meeting at NCYMc, as well as a member of Iowa Yearly Meeting (Conservative). It felt good to to have the whole family together, even if in small measure.
I learned a lot on my visit among Friends in North Carolina. I saw that while our Yearly Meetings share a common history, as well as many beliefs and practices in common, we have also grown apart over the years. In particular, I noticed that while Friends in Ohio Yearly Meeting speak very frequently of Jesus Christ and his role in our community, North Carolina Yearly Meeting Friends spoke primarily in terms of “God” or “the Spirit.” This is a difference in language, certainly, but it seemed that our distinctive ways of speaking about our faith point to a different understanding of who Jesus is and what his role is in our life as a people.
I am grateful that I yielded to the Lord’s prompting to visit Friends in North Carolina this year. I learned a lot about our brothers and sisters, with whom we share so much history and a great deal of commonality today. It is my prayer that we might find ways to strengthen the bonds between us, that we might be mutually enriched by our fellowship in the Lord. I feel certain that the Christ has a purpose for us, not just as individual Yearly Meetings, but as a wider body of Conservative Friends. I seek to remain open to how the Lord might use me in building up that body.
The following weekend, I had another opportunity to participate in the work that Christ is doing to build up his Church, traveling to Philadelphia to nurture Christ-centered Friends there. The Lord is doing amazing things in Philadelphia, and I feel privileged to have some small part in nurturing the new life that is developing there. Please pray for the seed of Christ in Philadelphia. May it blossom into a beautiful, fruit-bearing tree that is for the healing of the nations.
Finally, this past weekend we had the opportunity to welcome visitors to Capitol Hill. Over the weekend, we had guests from Rockingham Meeting who met with the core members of Capitol Hill Friends. It was good to strengthen the bonds between our two groups, and to explore how the Lord might be leading us together. We were also blessed to welcome Laura Dungan and Aaron Fowler of Wichita, Kansas. Laura and Aaron are clerks of Great Plains Yearly Meeting and Heartland Meeting, respectively. They are also amazing musicians, and we were grateful for their willingness to lead us in song at Capitol Hill Friends‘ meeting for worship on Sunday night.
Capitol Hill Friends is a very young group, and we are still in development as a Quaker church. For this reason, it is especially helpful to have seasoned visitors come and spend time with us. We grow as a fellowship by receiving the support of grounded individuals, and we gain a better understanding of who we are as a Meeting through our interactions with other Meetings. All this is to say: If you feel that the Lord might be directing you or your Meeting to visit or reach out to Capitol Hill Friends in some way, we encourage you to get in touch with us.
This coming week, Ohio Yearly Meeting will be having our annual gathering in Barnesville, Ohio. Please pray for us as we come together to discern the will of God for us as a people. And, of course, please continue to pray for the growth and strengthening of Capitol Hill Friends and of the ministry that Christ is calling us to as a community.
May the Lord bless you as you seek to live in Christ’s reign, embodying his love and power in this world.
In the joy of Christ’s easy yoke,
Micah Bales