Archive for January 2014 – Page 2

Striving for the Greater Gifts

Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts. -1 Corinthians 12:29-31a

In the Quaker tradition, we have found that God gives spiritual gifts to the whole community – the body of Christ. These gifts manifest in the lives of individual members of the body, but their purpose is to build up the life of the whole church, not merely to satisfy the individual.

The Quaker understanding of spiritual gifts is one deeply rooted in our experience of God’s action in history. We have found that the Spirit does not give gifts randomly, or according to mechanistic laws nature. Rather, God pours out gifts in particular times to particular individuals in the context of particular communities.

The gifts of the Spirit are an important way that Jesus continues his ministry on earth today. He heals the sick, teaches us, gathers communities, cares for the flock, and declares the truth to an unbeliving world. He does all of this through us, his friends, by the power of the Holy Spirit that he has sent us.

Sometimes, though, it seems like God has not given us all the of the spiritual gifts we need to carry out our mission. Maybe my community needs more teaching ministry, but no one in the group appears particularly gifted to teach. Or perhaps we feel called to engage in greater outreach to those around us, but none of us seems called and equipped for the work of evangelism. What do we do in these times, when the call that God has put on our heart seems to run counter to our community’s competency?

It seems to me that there are several possibilities here. One would be that we’ve misheard God. We think we’re called to a particular form of ministry as a community, but in fact we’re called to something else. If that’s the case, it shouldn’t be surprising that we don’t have the gifts we think we need!

Another possibility is that we do, in fact, have the gifts we need; we’ve just failed to recognize them. This possibility suggests that we should develop ways to help each person in our community discern their spiritual gifts, and to exercise them. What does it look like for our communities to always be discerning our spiritual gifts and encouraging one another to put them to use?

But what if neither of these are true? What if God really is calling us to a particular ministry, and what if we honestly don’t have the spiritual gifts necessary to get the job done? I believe I’ve seen this happen on a number of occasions, and it’s deeply frustrating. More than that, it calls into question the Quaker doctrine that God does not call us to any service without also equipping us to be faithful.

How should we respond if our community truly feels called, but honestly doesn’t feel equipped to carry out the calling? Could it be that God is inviting us to receive greater gifts, both as individuals and as a community? What does it mean to strive for the greater gifts that only God can give?

I’m not sure how this all works metaphysically, but I do know that my community and I desperately need God’s guidance and power to live into the mission that Jesus is calling us to. I’m praying that God will send us the gifts of teaching, to help us better understand and integrate the good news of the kingdom into our lives. I’m asking that God will bless us with the gift of evangelism, showing us how to radiate Christ’s love into a world that does not know him. I’m seeking God’s help to raise up leaders who are ready to dedicate themselves to a life of discipleship and service to others – healing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing the lepers, casting out demons and announcing the arrival of God’s kingdom.

Are there spiritual gifts that seem lacking in your community? What discernment have you done around your shared sense of calling and assessment of the spiritual gifts already present in the body? What would it look like for your community to strive for the greater gifts? Do we have the courage to confess, like Moses did, that we can’t do this on our own – that we need God to act in our lives?

God Beyond the Crisis

I’ve heard it said that there are no atheists in foxholesWhether or not that expression is literally true, I take this to mean that, in the face of imminent death, everybody wants something to hold onto. Even those who have a philosophical aversion to the idea of God may catch themselves in a moment of crisis crying out for help to someone beyond themselves. Whether or not a person intellectually believes in such a Someone is mostly beside the point.

I know this has been true in my own experience. I’ve never been in a foxhole, but times of great danger and uncertainty have always elicited a prayer response. Regardless of my professed belief or non-belief in a deity, I’ve had many unexpected oh, God! moments.

Interestingly, some of the most powerful of these moments have come not in times of great threat, but rather in moments of deep beauty. While many crisis prayers have escaped my lips in times of danger and fear, at many other times I have been surprised by feelings of deep joy and gratitude. Not every oh, God! moment is one of despair. They also come in the form of an inexplicable need to say thank you to something or someone, even if I don’t know who that someone might be.

In my youth, I rejected the idea of a personal God. For years, I was an agnostic, and the only thing that held me back from active atheism was the fact that these unwilled oh, God! and thank you moments kept happening. I didn’t believe in God. I was actively critical of religion in general. But when push came to shove, my heart had a need for God.

Over time, a series of crisis moments brought my head into alignment with my heart. I had many crises and a series of peak experiences. I had dramatic ups and downs, each one slowly convincing me of the reality of God, and of my need for him.

As I have grown more mature in my faith, however, this pattern has presented a problem. Because I came to be in relationship with God through crises, it has sometimes been a challenge to feel myself in relationship with God in normal times. That is, if I’m not having an intense thank you moment or a frightening oh, God! moment, is my relationship with God still active? There have been many times that I have felt dull and out of touch with God, simply because life was normal, decent, and uneventful.

At this point in my journey, I feel challenged to embrace a relationship with God that goes beyond crisis. I am learning how to simply be with God, without demanding any special experiences. I suppose this is something like how human romance must develop over time. While the beginning of a relationship is often filled with intense emotions and big dreams, a successful marriage is built on an enduring commitment that holds firm through all the thrills and disappointments of life. Even when we don’t feel in love, we continue to act out of love. Emotional intensity fades, but the relationship grows deeper.

This is grown-up love: Endurance that acts in hope and submits itself to not-knowing. Commitment that requires neither constant affirmation nor threat. Love beyond the crisis.

Balancing and Growing – Micah’s Ministry Newsletter #60

Dear friends,

As we welcome the new year, I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the shape that my ministry has taken in the last 12 months. For me, 2013 was a time of exploring new models, making new friends and learning new skills. It was a year that radically challenged many of my assumptions about life, ministry and what it means to experiment with the Quaker/Christian tradition in 21st century urban America.

Without a doubt, 2013 has been the year of Friends of Jesus. Though it took us a while to formally change our name, this January we adopted a whole new strategy for developing community here in Washington, DC. This new model focuses around small groups, each one with its own core of leadership. Our small groups focus on equipping ourselves and others to become modern-day disciples of Jesus.

We started with one small group meeting at the William Penn House on Capitol Hill. This allowed us to gather our initial core and invite friends from across the metro area to come and explore what it could mean to share our lives, serve others, and follow Jesus together. We adapted our format to emphasize community-building and engagement with the Bible. We also reduced the length of our meetings significantly, seeking to be more accessible to folks with busy lives, long commutes, and limited energy.

The changes we adopted had an impact. The original small group flourished, and by the fall we had multiplied that small group into two new cells – one gathering in the suburbs of Maryland, and the other based in the eastern part of DC proper. During this time we also multiplied leadership, adding two new core members, both of whom have felt called to provide leadership for the new small group in Maryland.

This has been time of near-constant outreach. As I look back over my calendar for 2013, I see that most weeks I’ve spent afternoons grabbing coffee with folks, and many evenings sharing dinners and participating in social events. At times, just meeting with folks and staying connected has felt like a part-time job by itself!

As I’ve been digging into the work of local outreach and pastoral care, I’ve been learning to balance other areas of responsibility, too. I continue to work part-time for Friends United Meeting, serving as their Web & Communications Specialist. I also do technical writing for a hospice and palliative care newsletter. And, starting this summer, I’ve been apprenticing with a local carpenter, learning some practical skills and seeing DC from a new perspective, as a tradesman.

This combination of digital work, professional writing and manual labor has been good for me. At the same time, it has often been a challenge to balance all of my activities so that my ministry is not disrupted. I continue to seek ways to live more sustainably, finding a path that pairs financial viability with faithfulness to the service that God has called me to.

As I look ahead to this new year, I feel hopeful. In the last few months, there has been a marked growth in energy and enthusiasm across the Friends of Jesus Fellowship as a whole. New communities are emerging across the East Coast, and God is raising up and equipping an amazing team of ministers to provide leadership, teaching and outreach. In many ways, this has been the year when the Friends of Jesus Fellowship has truly begun to take root and grow. In the year to come, I am praying that God will continue to bless us and give us roots that go deeper, branches that go higher, and fruit that blesses the world.

Thank you for all your prayers, encouragement and support this year. God is working through each of us, whether through prayer, outreach, financial giving, leadership, teaching, encouragement, or any of the many other gifts that God provides. May we continue to be instruments that God uses to build up the body of Christ and bless the world with his love!

In gratitude and friendship,

Micah Bales