Tag Archives: Acts 13

Organism and Organization

“While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul….”
Acts 13:2 (NIV)

For anyone who is interested in how organizations and human systems grow and function, the book of Acts provides some fascinating insights. The Jewish tribe from which the Jesus movement sprung was a rigidly structured religious system based on  tribes, families, and descent (thus all the endless lists of genealogies). Only descendants of Aaron could be priests and offer sacrifices. Only members of the Levite clan could work in the Temple. If you were a woman or you weren’t genetically connected to the Jewish tribe, then you were always held a lower class position. This was the centuries old system that the first believers were raised in. It’s all they knew.

Within weeks of Jesus’ ascension the “new” system turned everything these believers had once known on its head. Thousands upon thousands of people became believers. And it wasn’t just people from the Jewish tribe, but people from every walk of life. Holy Spirit power poured out on everybody regardless of gender, tribe, class, age, nationality, socio-economic position, or education. Not only was the movement organically growing exponentially, but everyone had a role to play. Everyone had a spiritual gift with which to contribute to the good of the whole. Read between the lines of Acts and you can feel the heady mess that Jesus’ followers had on their hands.

In today’s chapter there’s a little hint of this reality. Barnabas had been among the first believers, but certainly wasn’t one of Jesus’ original twelve. We find Barnabas in the town of Antioch where he seems to have some position of leadership along with guys named Simeon (Wait a minute. Who!?) and Lucius (What?!) and a dude named Manaen (Who is that?!) whose claim to local fame was having been the foster brother of Herod Antipas when he was a kid. Notice that Saul (Yes, that Saul, the one we know as the Apostle Paul) is named last on the list.

Welcome to the Jesus movement, the early church, where groups of believers sprung up everywhere out of nowhere and people you never heard of are suddenly leading local groups of Jesus’ followers.

This group in Antioch is worshipping and a person with the gift of prophecy gives Holy Spirit direction that Barnabas and Saul need to go on a journey to take the good news about Jesus to other towns. Notice that this sending didn’t come from the central authority, The Twelve, in Jerusalem. There was no committee formed, no delegation sent from Antioch to petition approval from the leadership in Jerusalem. Holy Spirit spoke direct to some dudes we’ve never heard of telling Barnabas and Saul to go. The dudes we’ve never heard of laid hands on Barnabas and Saul because they had the authority of Holy Spirit. It is an organic, living, breathing, growing, multiplying system.

And, it was messy.

It fascinates me to look at this organism of the early Jesus movement and then look at the denominations that make up most of the Christian churches in the world. When I look at denominations from Roman Catholic to Greek Orthodox, Lutheran, Methodist, Reformed, and Assemblies of God with their hierarchical org charts, their strict rules about who can do what, their educational systems, and their religious hoops it reminds me more of the old Jewish system from which Jesus freed the early believers.

In the book of Acts we witness the early church struggling to create systems to keep up with all that Holy Spirit was doing. An organization evolved and structures were clearly put into place. We as humans need structure and organization in order for things to work well. At the same time, what differentiated the early Jesus movement was that Holy Spirit was given free reign to work in and through everyone just as God designed the body of Christ to work. Along my journey I’ve observed that we always seem to put Holy Spirit back into the well ordered boxes of our human systems and organizational structures. When the Body of Christ is no longer allowed to be the organism it was designed to me and it is forced into rigid human organizational structures, it’s like putting a leash on Holy Spirit. Explosive, dunamis (the Greek word from which we get “dynamite”) power Jesus unleashed at Pentecost is reduced to a safe, child-proof sparkler.

There is a need for structure and organization, but I believe that we need to unleash Holy Spirit and rediscover the organic, living, breathing, growing, multiplying organism the Body of Christ was created to be.

Names, Nicknames, and Name Changes

source: vblibrary via flickr
source: vblibrary via flickr

But Saul, also known as Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit….”
Acts 13:9 (NRSV)

Names and Nicknames I’ve been given by others over the years:
Thomas James
Tommy James
Tommy James-es
Tommy
Tom Tucker
Tompt
Thomas DiGomas “Don’t Give a Damn” Nostrum
Tommy V.
T.V.
T.

I find names and the monikers we give one another fascinating.

I find it fascinating that a man born and raised as Saul became known to the world and to history as Paul. I have written several posts over the years about names. I find that names can be powerful metaphors. Changes in lives paralleled with a change in names is a somewhat recurring theme across all of God’s Message. Abram becomes Abraham. Simon becomes Peter. Saul becomes Paul.

The interesting thing about Saul’s change is that it happens abruptly in today’s chapter. It just happens with no explanation. Scholars assume that the Hebrew “Saul” gave way to the more Greek “Paul” as his ministry switched from preaching to Jews to preaching to Greeks. It is a logical and simple assumption. The fact that the meticulous and detailed archivist, Luke, does not explain the change leads me to believe that even Luke thought that the reason for the change would be apparent to his readers.

But it’s fascinating to know that “Paul” to the Greeks meant “little.” Paul the persecutor and executioner of early Christians considered himself the “least” (or “littlest”) of the apostles. Paul alluded to physical afflictions that humbled him and left him feeling “little” and weak, but trusting in God’s strength.

This morning I’m asking myself: “What’s in a name?” and “What’s in a name change?” A name is a metaphor. It’s a label placed upon us, and as such it holds a certain meaning.

Chapter-a-Day Acts 13

Dusty feet
Dusty feet (Photo credit: Macarena Viza)

So they shook the dust from their feet as a sign of rejection and went to the town of Iconium. Acts 13:51 (NLT)

I’m a people pleaser by nature. It’s the personality God gave me. It can be a real strength as I am generally good at building bridges, rapport and relationships. I don’t like to offend others or anger people and avoid doing so.  At the same time, the strengths of every personality type have their corollary weaknesses. In my personal journey I’ve learned that I must constantly be mindful not to allow my pleasing nature to transform me into a door mat for others to walk over. In addition, I have to guard my heart against feelings of hurt and rejection when others don’t like me or what I believe, think, or say.

Our journey through the stories of Jesus’ earthly ministry and the early experiences of His followers remind me that matters of spiritual truth, by their very nature, create conflict. It can be easily argued that Jesus, in His three years of public teaching, was the source of as much conflict as healing. When Jesus sent out the twelve He told them to expect rejection, and He instructed them to “shake the dust off” when it occurred.

As a pleaser, it’s a good reminder for me that not everyone is going to like or appreciate me, my beliefs, my thoughts, my word, or my choices. Some, in fact, have openly despised me. Because of my personality, it tends to bother me a great deal. “Shaking the dust off your feet” is a great word picture. It means letting go of rejection. It’s a reminder not to let the emotional residue of rejection build up on the soul, nor carry it with us wherever we go.