Mar 21, 2011

Going Beyond the Surface in Your Oikos

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[This blog appeared today at oikoschurches.com]

I used to work for a major electronics company that used to exist.  I worked there back in the day where sales people were required to wear a tie and a coat.  No, not this wasn't the 1950's, this was in the mid-1990's, before the advent of Best Buy and the casual untrained salesperson.

This company was very serious about well trained and well groomed salespeople.  They actually issued all employees special blazers to wear; a gray one and a blue one, and required good hygiene and professional appearance.  "Sales Counselors", as we were called, were only paid by commission back in those days, and in those days, a man could make a lot of money selling televisions.  Especially if you were a very large man, so large that you required a special order company blazer.

Mike was such a man.  Big and tall and big in the other direction too.  Friendly, knowledgeable, aggressive and crafty.  He was one of the top TV sales people in the entire company.  He could sell you and extended warranty even if you didn't buy a product to go with it.  Customers would spot his friendly frame the moment they walked in the door, and march right to him with their wallets open, leaving us average height blazers to scavenger for whatever potential sales were left in his wake. 

I liked Mike very much.  I enjoyed working with him, even though it probably meant I would make less money.   We worked together for 3 years at that store, and I thought I knew him pretty well.

One day, he asked me if I would help him move.  He had let me borrow his car a couple of times while mine was in the shop, so I figured I owed him one (or more.)  So I said "sure."

When I arrived at his house in an average neighborhood, he had a typical grass lawn with some low maintenance shrubbery.  But I was stunned to see what I saw when I walked in the door.

Squalor.

It was unbelievable.  To this day, it was the filthiest house I've ever seen in my life.  It was plain dirty.  When I say dirty, I mean literal piles of dirt.  On the floor, in the couch, everywhere.  The house was infested with all sorts of vermin, including cats, roaches and unidentifiable critters.  My thesaurus does not have a word to adequately describe the toxic and nearly visible odor.

His wife came out of the kitchen and greeted me warmly, thanking me for coming over to help.  His kids were in the back yard playing.  I won't even describe the kitchen, it was worse than you can imagine.  Mike was standing next to me, looking over his home as if he hadn't noticed it's condition, and visibly shrinking in size as he could no doubt sense by surprise and grief. 

I wanted to cry, I couldn't believe it.  I kept asking myself, "What was going on in this man's life, with his family, that would lead to this kind of lifestyle at home?"  It couldn't be healthy, it wasn't livable, yet, it was where this family resided.  I knew Mike was making nearly 6 figures based on commissions reports that were posted at the store to inspire the rest of us.  Was he in some kind of financial trouble?  Depression?  Tragedy?  What happened to this family?

I gladly and quickly helped him get his stuff out of the house.  This burden on him and his family had been well hidden, until he and I stood in his front yard on a hot day in a sea of moldy, ruined furniture.  We stood there looking at it, smelling it, and Mike, with a tear coming down his cheek, decided that most of it just needed to go to the dump.  He was right about that, and that is where we moved his stuff.

Nearly every day after that, a humbled Mike thanked me for my help.  He could hardly thank me without breaking down.  He never said it explicitly, but I know he also was thanking me for not telling any of our other co-workers, and thanking me for remaining his friend.

How well do you know your oikos?  These people that you work with, go to coffee with, study with - really, do you know them?   Have you ever asked yourself why God put you in their life?   Have you ever asked God to show you?   Truth is, many relationships today are surfacy, even within our oikos that are supposedly "close."  But as Christ followers, we are called to love our oikos, even when we discover something that is unlovable about them.  That's how Jesus loves us - and there is something unlovable about you and me for sure.

My encouragement is to pray that God will give you courage when He takes you beyond the surface of the life of someone in your oikos.  I think He'll answer that prayer in ways that will amaze you if you trust Him.  You won't always find the squalor I found, but whatever you find, you will find that you are the right person to be there.  God has planned it that way.   That's why it's your oikos.  And you have a great message of hope that is universal, so don't worry. 

I'm sure in Mike's case, God didn't put me there only to help him move.  After that day, I made sure that Mike knew I was a Christ follower.  I wasn't sure if he knew that before.  I thought I was his friend before, but I don't think I truly was until I saw his home.   I invited him and his family to church with me, they came a few times, and he had a lot of good questions.  We did a few things socially after work together and I tried to just be his friend. 

Turns out, Mike's wife was a Christian, but hadn't really trusted God much for a while, and Mike had been to church as a kid but struggled to accept God's grace.  I don't know where Mike and his family are today, or where they stand with their faith.  Shortly after his move, I moved to a new town and a new oikos.   I never discovered why his house was in such disarray.  But today, I am praying for his oikos, whoever they are, whomever God has surrounded him with, that they would be a blessing to him

Who knows, maybe Mike is following Jesus and blessing those in his oikos today?  Hope so...

SCF
twitter.com/scottfurrow
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