It snows in Wisconsin. But I bet you knew that already.
On cold, wintry nights it is best to snuggle up under a blanket and hibernate. But what if you were driving along to visit someone and saw a house where chairs, tables, and a couch were all sitting in the snow of their front yard?
You might conclude that something was seriously wrong with that household. Could there have been a fire or some other disaster unique to that family?
Pushing Out the Furniture
My former boss and Senior Pastor, Stuart Briscoe, describes this scene when, back in the 1970s, he was invited to attend a small group hosted by a couple named Bob and Win. It was a time when many young people (who are now much older) were dissatisfied with the established church and were looking for something else. Bob and Win invited them to their house for Bible study.
Because so many people came to their house on Wednesday evenings, it was necessary to move all the furniture out of their living room and put much of it in their front yard, snow or no snow. For Bob and Win, making space for these young people was much more important than the furniture. Most people simply sat on the floor of their living room to hear Win teach.
She was an extraordinary teacher. Bob, a self-described introverted engineer, gave quiet loving support to his wife as she would minister the teaching of the Bible to any who would show up.
Forever Family. That was the name of the group. These wandering souls had found something new: a gathering of people who focused their allegiance around Jesus Christ and then tried to live this out in a community of people from all kinds of backgrounds.
It was a family; it was a ‘forever family’ because these people found that their earthly family boundaries didn’t matter when you have a group of people now identified by their allegiance to their mutual Father in heaven.
Their name came from understanding Ephesians 2:13-16:
But now, in King Jesus, you have been brought near in the king’s blood—yes, you, who used to be a long way away! He is our peace, you see. He has made the two to be one. He has pulled down the barrier, the dividing wall, that turns us into enemies of each other. He has done this in his flesh, by abolishing the law with its commands and instructions.
The point of doing all this was to create, in him, one new human being out of the two, so making peace. 16 God was reconciling both of us to himself in a single body, through the cross, by killing the enmity in him.
Wow! Creating one new human being out of two (Jews and Gentiles in the context of Ephesians). One new human family, a forever family, created by King Jesus when people find their allegiance in Him rather than in the earthly families or realities to which many align themselves.
One of these people who was a part of that movement in the 1970s described herself: ‘I am a servant of Christ Jesus carefully disguised as a machine operator in a machine shop’. She knew her allegiance and her mission. Her allegiance was to Christ. Her mission was to her coworkers.
Fast forward to 2017. The ‘established church’ has been found lacking by many people. In our day, there are many ‘nones’ who may identify with Jesus but won’t identify with any formal church gathering. I meet with some of these on Sunday nights and I teach them.
When we first started gathering, we studied Ephesians together. This group, somewhat scattered through various destructive experiences within various churches, gathers every Sunday night to minister to each other. We pray; we sing; we break bread together; and the Scriptures are taught. Ephesians 2:17-22 describes what was happening:
So the Messiah came and gave the good news. Peace had come! Peace, that is, for those of you who were a long way away, and peace, too, for those who were close at hand. 18 Through him, you see, we both have access to the father in the one spirit.
This is the result. You are no longer foreigners or strangers. No: you are fellow-citizens with God’s holy people. You are members of God’s household. You are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with King Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole building is fitted together, and grows into a holy temple in the Lord. You, too, are being built up together, in him, into a place where God will live by the spirit.
We emphasize how God has now created a new entity called the ‘family of God’ in whom His Spirit dwells. As such, we are now identified as brothers and sisters of each other. We live a new way in line with what King Jesus teaches, knowing that he has put this new body together in a way that is to bring forth the word and way of reconciliation in a fractured world. The world is different because of the way these people (and others like them) live their lives. They, too, want to break down divisions among people through the work of the King by the Spirit of God.
I often tell them that, while I love my earthly family, I am closer to them because of our ‘new family’ status in the King. The political affiliations are irrelevant; the economic status is irrelevant; the ethnic differences are irrelevant. We are one new body, representing the King in a deeply divided world.
In his book Simply Christian, Professor Wright describes the Christian family this way:
The early Christians did their best to live as an extended family, caring for each other in the way in which (in that world) extended families did. They called each other “brother” and “sister” and really meant it. They lived and prayed and thought like that: children of the same father, following the same older brother, sharing goods and resources where need arose. When they talked about “love,” that’s the main thing they meant: living as a single family, a mutually supporting community. The church must never forget that calling.
The Call to Create Families
Last week Win died. She was 93 years old. That means that she and her husband, Bob, were in their 50s when they would empty their house of furniture to make sure there was room for the people who felt drawn to this Forever Family.
Win is gone now. She was doing the same ministry in a home for seniors right up until she died. Her ministry did not change when she got old. Only her location changed. She ministered to the ‘nones’ of her generation, knowing that a new family is made through Jesus the King.
My desire is to create the same kind of environment where the people gathering know that there is neither rich nor poor, neither Democrat nor Republican, neither Caucasian, African American, nor Latino. We are one body of Christ living out the way of the Lord by the Spirit. We follow in Win’s footsteps. Win followed in Jesus’ footsteps. She is at rest; we are at work.