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Forming (in) Community by Practicing Family (Relationship)

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Recap: Being the Beloved – The Basic Framework

Jesus of Nazareth came proclaiming and inaugurating God’s Kingdom. To enter and experience God’s Kingdom we must “repent and believe” (Mark 1:15). How do you do that? By obeying Jesus’ call: “Come, follow me, and I will make (form) you, into people who fish others for the Kingdom” (Mark 1:16-18). Hence Jesus’ three core Kingdom values: Following Jesus, Forming (in) Community, Fishing World. We’re following Jesus… in community… for the world. These values are centered in God’s personalized love for us in Jesus, “The Beloved” (Mark 1:11). In him we’re accepted and given a new identity, “God’s Beloved”, to live a life of love just as Jesus loved us (Eph 1:6, 5:1-2). We live these core values, centered in Freeing Love, as Fits our particular Context.

To live these Kingdom values and become The Beloved, we must prioritize four key practices for each value. For four months I taught on what it means to be The Beloved, then another four months on the four priorities and practices that enable us to live our highest value: Following Jesus in relational intimacy and co-working by the daily discipline of The Word, Worship, Prayer and Holy Spirit Administration.

Remember, I also taught on support and accountability in our daily disciplines: Using the circled triangle to ask the five basic questions of spiritual formation. Are YOU in an accountability group of 2 or 3 or 4 spiritual companions? How is it going? I now begin to teach on the second core value, Forming Community – Being Formed in Community, and the four priorities and practices that make it a reality: Family-Relationships, Healing, Servant Gifts and Equipping. Next year I will teach on Fishing the World.

The Second Value: Forming (in) Community

When Jesus called people to follow him, it meant entering his Kingdom community. That was non-negotiable. They could not follow him without becoming part of his learning community, his little ‘family’ and ‘flock’ (Luke 8:19-21, 12:32). THAT was how he ‘made’ or formed them into God’s people ‘on purpose’: To ‘fish’ others into his Kingdom. Jesus valued community – he experienced it with his Father by his indwelling Spirit. God is the Eternal Community of Father, Son and Spirit, who created human family in his likeness as his image-bearers on earth (his “offspring”, Acts 17:28). All families in heaven and earth (ought to) derive their nature and character from God’s Fatherhood (Eph 3:14). So, God as Family created Family with the end goal of Family: His reconciled diverse Family ruling with him over a new earth forever and ever (Rev 7:9-17, 21:1-7).

Jesus’ community was THAT future family in the present. He saw it as the renewed Israel, appointing twelve apostles to symbolize the twelve patriarchs. He formed community to form people in and through community (wholistic spiritual formation) to fulfill Israel’s destiny: Bring salvation to the ends of the earth (Is 49:6). Community is not an end in itself – it’s God’s primacy means of bringing and advancing his Kingdom.

The question is: how does that happen? How do we form and be formed in community?

The First Priority and Practice: Family (Relationships)

Jesus answers the question in those he called to follow: Smelly uneducated fishermen, then Matthew the tax collector, despised for exploiting his people in support of the Romans, then Simon the Zealot who would kill for Torah purity and Israel’s liberation… they had to all get on together… not without serious tensions for sure! He had women talmudim (disciples) who followed him in his Yeshiva (Learning Community) – some really ‘sinful’, some poor, some from high society who helped finance the group (Luke 8:1-3). This certainly challenged his male disciples’ prejudice against women. No self-respecting Rabbi would have women in his Yeshiva – not to mention Jesus’ feasting with sinners, tax collectors, prostitutes and drunkards. He ministered to Roman soldiers (Matt 8: 13), ‘half-breed’ Samaritans (John 4), and Gentiles (Matt 15:21-28).

Jesus was radical in his historical context, reconciling political and economic opposites, genders, races, and even generations: His welcome and treatment of children was counter cultural – it rebuked and transformed his disciples’ minds (Mark 10:13-16). Jesus crossed all the divides, the reconciler who reconciled the opposites of society in his alternative society, as witness of heaven’s family on earth. He was the glue who held people together who otherwise would kill each other, let alone stay together. You can choose your friends, but in God’s Kingdom brothers and sisters just arrive on the scene by God’s sovereign design – to irk the hell out of you in order to get the heaven into you – to teach you how to love as God loves. That’s family… God’s family! That is precisely why Jesus gave them “a new commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you; by this love all people will know that you are my family of followers” (John 13:34-35).

Therefore, we must look at the discipline of being (in) community, the practice of family – both blood family and spiritual family. What’s our responsibility as followers of Jesus in our blood family? And what does belonging, commitment and formation mean in the local church? How can we make church our home as God’s family? It’s essentially about the practice of healthy relationships, which we are notoriously weak at. Dysfunctional people create dysfunctional marriages, leading to dysfunctional family, producing dysfunctional children and worse adults. Healthy church heals and reverses all that!

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