Tag Archives: Structure

Structure and Flow

In every province and in every city to which the edict of the king came, there was joy and gladness among the Jews, with feasting and celebrating.
Esther 8:17 (NIV)

Over the past few years, I have served as a mentor to a group of teachers. I will typically review outlines and provide encouragement and advice prior to their message, and then give feedback after the delivery of their messages. It’s been rewarding to watch individuals improve their preparation and presentation skills, and it’s challenged me in a number of unexpected ways. I honestly think I’ve been a better learner than I have a  teacher in the process.

One of the biggest observations I’ve made over my tenure in this role is the importance of structure. If you have a well-ordered structure then your words and ideas have flow. The hearer, almost sub-consciously, follows the flow and ends up right where you want them at the end. Without structure, there is no flow. Transitions are clunky and the hearer gets lost not being able to follow how what you’re saying now related to what you just said before. When an audience is lost they check out. Casual observers rarely appreciate how a great story, song, play, painting, building, sculpture, movie, or presentation is almost always well-structured.

Which brings us to today’s chapter of Esther in which the villain, Haman, has been dispatched. Mordecai, his nemesis, is elevated to Haman’s position and given his possessions. It’s such a good story, but the casual reader does not realize that the story-teller has carefully structured the narrative in what’s known as a “chiastic” style. The author uses the same phrasing in both introducing Haman and then describing Mordecai’s redemption to highlight the reversal of fortune. Commentators Karen Jobes and Janet Nygren help us see the structure:

In the quiet of my office this morning I find myself thinking about structure and flow. The further I get in my life journey the more aware I’ve become that everything is connected. It’s the design of creation. Even a seemingly random sight of trees in a forest has what scientists call a fractal structure. Whether it’s my work, a message I’m giving, a story I’m telling, our weekly schedule, the vacation plan, our meal plan for the week, or how our living room is arranged there is both structure and flow. If I structure things well then things flow better and the results are generally good. If things are disjointed, disconnected, and there’s no real flow, then everything feels unstable and out of whack.

And with that, I enter the structure of my day.

Flow well, my friend.

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.

Good Doctor Luke

Mattias Stom's depiction of Mark (distracted and looking at us - he probably already finished his 16 chapter cliff notes version on Jesus' life) and Luke (still hard at work with his research).
Mattihas Stom’s depiction of Mark (distracted and looking at us – he probably already finished his 16 chapter cliff notes version on Jesus’ life) and Luke (still hard at work with his research).

With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus….
Luke 1:3 (NIV)

This morning I was up early and spent some time hyperlinking all of the chapters of 1 Chronicles, which we just finished yesterday, into the Chapter-a-Day Index. As I was doing this mundane task I began to think about all of these posts I’ve written day-by-day for over eight years. My brain, still fogged by sleep, had a silly thought: “If I was running for President [talk about a nightmare for all of us], and both the press and public started pouring over my blog to find out more about me, what would they conclude about me based on what I’ve written?”

I then opened to the Luke’s biography of Jesus to start on this morning’s chapter and read Luke’s introduction to Theophilus, the person to whom Luke addressed his account of Jesus’ life. Having just been thinking about what your writing reveals about the person, I realized how much Dr. Luke [traditional holds that he was a physician] revealed about himself in his introduction.

  • He is methodical, making sure that his “orderly” account was properly introduced. There’s a formality to Luke’s style and structure.
  • He notes that his account is the result of “careful investigation,” and I could imagine the brain of a scientist at work.
  • He had researched everything “from the beginning.” The good doctor was thorough as well as methodical.

As I’ve poured over the “big four” biographies of Jesus countless times, I’ve come to appreciate particular things that are unique to each. The thing that I quickly observed in reading Dr. Luke’s investigative report, and which I have come to greatly appreciate over the years, is that it contains small details and entire episodes in the story of the life of Jesus that aren’t found in the accounts of Matthew, Mark, and John. A physician diagnosing the events he’d witnessed, you can feel Luke’s brain systematically questioning, researching, cataloging, and filing all of the facts so as to lay them out to Theophilus in the most clear and logical manner. These details and episodes provide incredible color and context to the story.

This morning, I am thankful for context and color. I’m thankful for diverse peoples and personalities whom God created to bring that color and context to both His-story and to each of our own stories. I’m thankful for Dr. Luke, whose physician’s brain does not work like mine (I think I’m more like John), and his meticulous investigation which I have enjoyed and from which I have greatly benefitted.

Chapter-a-Day Leviticus 14

“If the fungus breaks out again in the house after the stones have been torn out and the house has been scraped and plastered, the priest is to come and conduct an examination; if the fungus has spread, it is a malignant fungus. The house is unclean.” Leviticus 14:43-44 (MSG)

A few weeks ago, we had the upper portion of our house resided. The old siding was taken off and new siding replaced it. I had some fears about what the contractor would find when he pulled off the old siding. In one area, there had been water damage inside and carpenter ants had eaten away the wood structure beneath the siding. Fortunately, it was limited to one small area. We had the underlying structure rebuilt, sprayed the remaining wood, and made sure the water would not return.

Today’s chapter discussed the ancient prescription for dealing with the problem of mold and fungus in a house. Often, you don’t know what’s going on behind a wall, or behind your siding, until it’s too late to capably deal with the problem.

What an awesome word picture for our lives. We all tend to place siding on our lives with the way that we talk, the way we behave in public, the way we dress, and the way that we project ourselves. The real measure of a person, however, is what is happening beneath the public veneer we display to others. What really matters is not who we are when everyone is looking, but who we are in the places the public does not see. If we allow rotten and putrid things to grow unchecked behind the siding, it could very well mean the whole structure will eventually have to be torn down.