Families and communities transformed: changing our “Jerusalem”

rippleI’ll call them Susan and Lisa. Though their names have been changed, their story hasn’t.

Susan had since childhood been angry. She could lash out viciously toward others, but then something happened. Susan met Jesus and Jesus changed Susan. Sweetness replaced bitterness and church became a regular part of her life as she grew in her faith.

Her sister, Lisa, noticed. “What happened to you?” she asked Susan. “You used to be so angry.” Susan told Lisa about her newfound faith in Christ. Lisa was intrigued and started going to church with Susan. Soon, Lisa also decided to follow Jesus.

When God transforms the lives of individuals, the impact ripples to others.

In Acts 1, Jesus talks about this ever-widening impact. The Lord predicted the coming of the Holy Spirit and the change that would make in the lives of his followers. The disciples (followers) would become apostles (sent ones). Like a stone dropped in a pond, ripples would spread out in all directions:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8, NIV).

Jesus’  words serve as a brief outline for the 28 chapters of Acts. The transformation God desired began with the Jewish people on the Day of Pentecost, gathered in Jerusalem. Pilgrims who had gathered for the Jewish feast returned to their homes in other parts of the world, but some did not return the same as they came. They had believed in Jesus and their lives would never be the same; they took their new faith with them. Later, a second wave rippled out from the epicenter as persecution drove many believers out of Jerusalem. They, too, would impact others wherever they went. Paul of Tarsus – who at first persecuted Christians – became one himself. With his traveling companions, they crossed over cultural and linguistic barriers becoming the first Christian missionaries. Wherever they went, the power of the Gospel message transformed individuals, families, communities, and even the culture itself.

Families transformed

But let’s come back to that place in the pond where the stone first falls in. What does the first ring that ripples out represent?

For Susan, that first ring – her Jerusalem – was her family. Her sister, Lisa, noticed the change in her life but didn’t know why the change had taken place. By sharing her story with Lisa, her sister also came to faith.

John’s Gospel shows a similar effect. Jesus first called Andrew to follow him. The first thing he did was to find his brother, Simon, and tell him: “We have found the Messiah.” John 1:42 records: “And he brought him to Jesus.” Christian faith travels through family networks.

In the book of Acts, the term oikos appears frequently, including in the story of Cornelius (Acts 10) and the jailer in Philippi (Acts 16).  This Greek word is usually translated as “household.” Often, entire households would decide to follow Christ – wives, children, servants and their families. Pastor Tom Mercer of High Point Church – a congregation of 11,000 in southern California – sees a pattern that is still applicable in the 21st century. He explains:

Oikos, the Greek word for ‘extended family,’ encompasses our relational worlds—anywhere from eight to fifteen people, on the average, whom God has supernaturally and strategically placed in our spheres of influence…our relational worlds. We are all Christ’s partners in world-change.

-from “Sermon Central,” online: http://www.sermoncentral.com/pastors-preaching-articles/tom-mercer-how-the-oikos-grew-high-desert-church-to-11000-attenders-728.asp)

The first step in impacting our oikos is writing down their names. Who are your family members? Your close friends? Co-workers? Others with whom you have regular contact? Make a commitment to pray for one each day. Ask God to use your relationship with them as a bridge they can walk across to join the community of faith.

Bethany First Church of the Nazarene in Bethany, Oklahoma is an example of how churches grow using the oikos principle. The church has a close-knit feel even though more than 2,000 attend on any given Sunday. There are many family connections in the church since generations of families have intermarried. Christian faith has been shared historically through the family networks in the church. This in-part explains the healthy numerical growth experienced over decades.

Communities transformed

Yet oikos is broader than family networks. Mercer speaks of  “spheres of influence.” It is through our relational worlds that transformation can spill over from families to touch entire communities.

The growth of the church in sub-Saharan Africa has been astounding in part because of the oikos principle. Teams that project the Jesus film always seek the permission of the village chief and elders before planning a showing. What is the oikos for a village chief and elders? The whole village! If even some leaders of the village make a clear decision to follow Christ, often many will follow Christ because of their lead.

jesus

As in Africa, so in Ephesus. The early part of Acts 19 shows the impact made not only through miracles that Paul performed but also the decisions by sorcerers to abandon their occult craft and follow Christ.  The church was growing strong among both Jews and Greeks to the point that the even the religious culture of the city was being transformed.

Ephesus was renowned for its temple to Artemis, the Greek goddess of the hunt, wild animals, fertility and childbirth. Worshipers came to the temple and would purchase silver statues of Artemis. It was a lucrative trade (Acts 19:25), but Paul’s message of Christ was siphoning off business as people abandoned idol worship in favor of Christianity. Disturbed by his falling revenues, a silversmith named Demetrius riled up a theater crowd, shouting: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” A riot ensued. They seized a couple of traveling companions of Paul and likely would have done them bodily harm except for the intervention of the city clerk. He calmed the crowd and convinced them to use the courts and magistrates if they had a grievance (19:38).

An Anglican Bishop is reported to have lamented: “Wherever the Apostle Paul went, there were riots. Wherever I go, they serve me tea and crumpets.” How often do our churches resemble the Bishop’s lament? Yet as followers of Christ intentionally pray for their Jerusalem – their oikos -and model another, better way of living, God can use them to transform both their families and communities.

Summing it all up

How can God use us to help transform our Jerusalem? To answer that question requires another: Who is our oikos? God has given each of us families, friends and co-workers. This is our sphere of influence. Our mission is them!  As families are changed by the love of God, so communities will be transformed for the better. Are we ready to make a difference, together?

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Image credits

Jesus film showing:

Jesusfilm.org

 

 

 

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