Friday, March 22, 2013

The Jesus Kind of Family Part 2 - Oikos

In the last post, I introduced the idea that Jesus' brand of family is inclusive, hopeful, at the heart of God's mission, and even more fundamental than our own blood families.  Jesus' family comes in all shapes and sizes, but there is a word that describes where his family has historically found its source and equilibrium: oikos.

Oikos is a greek word that can just mean "house.But perhaps a fuller definition would be "household" or "extended family".  This was the basic unit of Greek society which included both blood family, slaves, land, and living quarters and extended into deep webs of relationships.  Paul and Peter both employ this fuller definition of oikos to describe what God's family is like.  We are his household and are being built together as living stones into a spiritual house.  That is a rich and beautiful image.

But don't confuse God's house with the American ideal of a house in a quiet neighborhood to raise a happy family.  This is not life in a gated community.  Oikos is messy, public, and has fuzzy boundaries.  People drift in and out of the margins while a consistent, committed core remains faithful to the Master.  Also, don't assume oikos means "house church".  I believe this to be too small of an idea and a misapplication of oikos.  Like the household of Cornelius, when God invades an oikos, the implications are far greater than what happens in the living room of your ranch home.

Oikos is both the context for the message of the Kingdom to be spread and the environment where the Kingdom flourishes and nourishes God's set-free-ones.  Everyone has "networks" of friends, neighbors, co-workers, classmates, or family members - the Potential Energy of mission if you will.  As people respond to the Holy Spirit and become followers of Jesus, that potential energy is converted into the Work of mission, where those followers are invited to join a new family - the oikos of God.

P.S.  In practical terms - and in my experience - groups of 40-60 people seem to be the optimal size for God's people to relate as an oikos.  Under 40 is too closed, causes stagnation, and makes entry into the group difficult.  Over 60 creates ministry challenges that are difficult to manage, diluted relationships, and unruly gatherings.  This is bound to be controversial and I certainly don't have all the answers, but there's something that seems right about this for Christians in the West.  Maybe we need to rethink what it means to be church around groups of 40-60 people who relate and share resources on a larger scale in a geographic area.  Just sayin'.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Gordon Cosby, You Finished Well (1918-2013)

To remember one of my heroes of the faith, Gordon Cosby, I thought I would post an excerpt from my book talking about the influence Cosby and the Church of the Saviour had on my formation and churches all over the world.  The man followed Jesus and lived out the Gospel.  I feel honored to have met him, been challenged by him, and to have gleaned from his wisdom.

Discovering the Essence of Church

There are many people who see what we have seen within the church and immediately proclaim the way to fix things:  “We need to be more biblical, to get back to how the first century church did things.”  “If only all these churches would sell off their buildings and start meeting in homes, everything would be different.”  “Shared leadership is the answer.  Pastors need to step down and let their flock have a say for once.”  “Theology is too stagnant.  We need some fresh ideas about God to stir the pot.”  And on and on.  A few years ago, I stumbled on a group of people who have consistently refused to be satisfied with quick fixes. 

In the early 1950’s, there was a simple, unknown Virginian helping to prophetically birth a church 50 years ahead of its time.  You have probably never heard of him.  Gordon Cosby was the son of a Baptist father and Presbyterian mother who grew up in Depression Era America.  During WWII, Gordon became an Army Chaplain and had experiences that changed his life as a Christian, Pastor, and member of the body of Christ.  When he returned from the war, he and a small band of seekers began to experiment with what it means to be ‘the church’ in Washington D.C.  In 2001, and then again in 2005, I had the privilege of visiting the result of his life's work and investigate the phenomenon that is the Church of the Savior.


Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Jesus Kind of Family

Just then his mother and brothers showed up. Standing outside, they relayed a message that they wanted a word with him. He was surrounded by the crowd when he was given the message, “Your mother and brothers and sisters are outside looking for you.”  Jesus responded, “Who do you think are my mother and brothers?” Looking around, taking in everyone seated around him, he said, “Right here, right in front of you—my mother and my brothers. Obedience is thicker than blood. The person who obeys God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” - Mark 3:31-35, The Message

I believe in the family.  It is a wonderful thing to have a family around you that loves, supports, laughs and cries together.  I grew up in such a family.  So did my wife.  Prayerfully, our kids are growing up in a family like that.  But I am under no illusion that my experience is typical.  In fact, I do not have to reach far into the lives of the people around me to witness the incredible brokenness that exists in most families.  To some, their experience of family is so broken that the idea of something transcendent that Jesus offers seems like a cruel joke.  Why would they want to be a part of another family when their own blood has been so destructive?

Yet the Jesus kind of family does transcend.  As Peterson says in the Message, "Obedience is thicker than blood."  In the individualistic world of 21st century America, we read these words and miss their intensity and the controversy they invoke.  Jesus is challenging the whole foundation of what we think family is about.  In the Kingdom of God, it doesn't matter what kind of family you come from.  In fact, in another place Jesus infers that those who are worse off when it comes to their blood family will receive an abundance in the Kingdom:

Mark my words, no one who sacrifices house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, land—whatever—because of me and the Message will lose out. They’ll get it all back, but multiplied many times in homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and land—but also in troubles. And then the bonus of eternal life! This is once again the Great Reversal: Many who are first will end up last, and the last first. - Mark 10:29-31, The Message

I have seen this with my own eyes.  People who effectively had no family, but found true family among other followers of Jesus.  I have come to believe that this is one of greatest acts of mission the church can embark on together.  When we act like a family - a Jesus kind of family - we create an environment that is welcoming, hopeful, and full of love.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

What We Need Now

I posted my first blog in February 2002.  Eleven years, 4 blogging platforms (it may be 5...I've lost count), one book, and three laptops later, I now have a new place to write.  For the past year or so, I have been occasionally posting at Everyday Mission, which is the blog for a servant organization my wife and I started that supports Kingdom-minded people and churches in South Florida.  I will continue to post there, but this is a place to return to my writing roots. 

Back in 2002, I was a fresh faced, full-head-of-haired, goateed church planter with a lot of questions and big dreams. Over the years, the questions (and some dreams) have changed, but the desire to see God's Kingdom made known in the lives of those around me has not.  My passion is still to make Jesus the center of what church is all about.  Along the way, I've learned a little bit about how to help the church actually follow Jesus - to love God and others.  I've also learned a lot about grace, healing, and how forgiveness can build a spiritual family against which the gates of Hell cannot prevail.

There will be new adventures to follow here specific to our life and ministry in our little paradise of Jupiter, Florida.  But more on that another time.  The title of this post is "What We Need Now" because that is going to be a theme for what you will read here.  I have a tremendous amount of hope for the future and am not going to be shy in sharing why.  I have seen miracles over the past decade.  Sure, I have seen God heal, bring people to salvation, set free the oppressed, and turn financial ruin into abundance.  But those are not the miracles that have brought the most joy and hope.  The miracles that have blown my mind usually play out over several years.  They involve normal, flawed, yet beautiful people finding a home with the saints of God.  Over time, the Spirit takes their broken pieces and fashions a mosaic of worship and redemption.  The resulting work of art then becomes a vessel pouring out Kingdom goodness to the world around them. 

These "miracles" - what I like to call the set-free-ones - are an unstoppable force.  They haven't built a huge church (and likely never will) and you won't read about them in a Christian magazine.  But they are making a indelible mark on the lives of those in their families, at their jobs, in their schools, and in their neighborhoods.  What we need now is to keep finding ways to create environments where the natural, expected outcome is that people are becoming set-free-ones.  That is where I have put my hope and what I will be writing about in the months to come.

A few business items.  I will not be accepting comments on this blog (mostly because of spam) so if you wish to interact please either use facebook, twitter or my email - everydaymission at gmail dot com.  Also, I will try as best I can to not use boring technical theological language and only quote NT Wright occasionally:)  Hopefully you will be encouraged, challenged, and maybe see some miracles yourself along the way.