Monday, May 20, 2013

Jesus Started It: An Organized Chaos

Preached on Sunday, May 19, 2013
Scripture readings: 2 Corinthians 8:1-15; Acts 11:19-30

There is a saying that goes, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” Another saying, like the first, goes, “If you want to make God smile, then tell him your plans.”

Photos Taken Around Hooper and Benge, WA, May 2013
The Book of Acts is an adventure story. It’s also a book of surprises. It’s also a story with a plan. The Lord is the author of the story. He is the author of the plan behind the story.

The strange thing about this story is that the author is also one of the figures inside the story. He has come into his own story (which is also our story) and He is the major player within this story. He came into his own story and made friends with the other characters of the story (including us). He made them (and us) capable of being partners with him. He has told his plan to the other figures inside the story (like the disciples; Peter, and James, and John; and like us).

It is important to keep the plan in mind while you are reading the Book of Acts. Jesus, the real author behind the writer Luke, summed up the plan in a meeting with his disciples. (We are meant to be eavesdroppers inside this story, and to hear the plan for ourselves.) The plan went like this: “You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

Jesus meant that they (and we) were being ordered, by his plan, to make disciples of everyone around the world; not just the Jews, but all the nations, and all kinds and sorts and backgrounds of people. (Matthew 28:19) Their mission and their lives (as well as ours) were to be organized around this central plan.

The next surprise about the story is that the very people who knew Jesus best, and were full of the Holy Spirit of God, didn’t follow the plan. They didn’t follow the plan except by surprise, and by their response to seeming chaos.

They dithered with the plan. They messed around as if they didn’t know the plan.

They look like faithful witnesses. The shared Jesus with others, and many others came to know the beauty and power of Jesus, and the kingdom of Jesus, and the Spirit that Jesus sent into their hearts. They shared Jesus with great courage in the face of imprisonment, torture and death.

And yet they were not following the plan. They were active, courageous, compassionate, spiritual, prayerful, and bold. They were genuine and strong in their faith. And they were ditherers. They were the seriously dithering friends of Jesus. As much as possible (at least at first) they stayed as close to home as possible with people (as much as possible) very much like themselves.

They did wonderful things. They witnessed to Jesus and they saw the work of Jesus and his Spirit being done all around them. But they clearly didn’t know what they were doing. They were an organized chaos.

They had no plan of what to do next, and the results were always a surprise. There were results, not because they followed the plan, but because the Lord of the plan (and the Spirit of the planner) followed his disciples around, and pushed them all over the place, and even went ahead of them. The Lord of the plan (and the Spirit of the planner) got things done through the disciples, and for them, in spite of their dithering.

The disciples took the good news of Jesus to the half-breed, traitor Samaritans because the persecution led by Saul drove them there. The Lord told Peter to go not very far to the home of the Roman centurion Cornelius to share Jesus with that Roman family and their friends. (Acts 10) The Holy Spirit told Philip to go not very far to share Jesus with a high ranking member of the Ethiopian government. (Acts 8:26-39)

Then more of the people who had been driven off by Saul finally got to the great Roman-Syrian city of Antioch. When they got there they did something that none of the disciples seemed to have thought of doing. They shared Jesus with the pagans, with the non-Jewish people of that city. They built a great Christian community among them. It’s important to notice that Luke tells us that, “The Lord’s hand was with them.”

It’s important to remember that persecution and not intentional organization made this happen. Those disciples who went to Antioch were where they were because their original intentions were upset and they were running for their lives. They had not been thinking about any plan. They were winging it.

They were doing the best that they could in a world that was ready, at any moment, to turn against them. They found themselves sharing good news that had almost gotten them killed.

In some way it didn’t make sense. They had been defeated and driven from their homes, and so (naturally) they were in the very place where the Lord wanted them to be. They didn’t really know where to go next, and so (logically) they were the ones who were sent to show the way.

This is a part of what Jesus started. It is an organized chaos. In the Biblical model of things, the conditions under which we will be called to serve and function will not always be the conditions we intend or want. That does not mean we will not thrive, but it will be an odd kind of thriving.

The thriving of the Christians in Antioch is described this way: “The Lord’s hand was with them.”

Here is one example of thriving that Paul gives us in his second letter to the church in Corinth: “We want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity; for I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.” (2 Corinthians 8:1-3) In Paul’s description of things, we can see that, “The Lord’s hand was with them.”

In the midst of severe trial (which probably means persecution) and in the midst of extreme poverty (probably due to the same persecution and because a large percentage of the early Christians were poor, or even slaves) the Christians in Macedonia were still givers by nature. Paul says this, “They pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing”. (2 Corinthians 8:4) They surely believed that, “the Lord’s hand was with them.”

This teaches us a lesson about what it means to be full of the Holy Spirit of God. The fullness of the Spirit is not a kind of inspirational experience. It isn’t something that happens to you and makes you sit back and say, “Wow, I am Spirit filled.”

The fullness of the Holy Spirit is a kind of equipment. It is an ability that is actually a gift.

It is the gift of the working of God in your life for the purpose of making you a partner with the working of God in the lives of others. When Luke tells you, in Acts, that someone was full of the Spirit, or filled with the Spirit, he always tells you the results of it. He tells you the outcome of that fullness. He tells you what the presence of the Holy Spirit made possible.

Luke tells us, in the Book of Acts, that the disciple named Barnabas was sent by the apostles in Jerusalem to size up what was going on in Antioch. Luke tells us that Barnabas was “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit, and faith.” And he tells us that when Barnabas “arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.” (Acts 11:23-24)

The fullness of the Spirit, the goodness, the faith, the gladness, and the encouragement of Barnabas are all part of the same thing. These are all part of the fullness of the Holy Spirit in Barnabas.

Some people, claiming to be full of the Spirit, could have gone up to Antioch and only seen disciples gone amuck. They could have seen the disciples who went to Antioch crossing a forbidden line, and leading people astray by giving them a false hope.

It was hard for the original members of the Jewish Christians to stop thinking that Jesus was a Jewish Messiah and not a Messiah for everyone. They kept thinking that anyone outside of the family of Israel had to come inside the family and inside the Jewish law in order to receive the Jewish Messiah. They may have been full of the Holy Spirit themselves, but they were not allowing themselves to see what the Holy Spirit was doing, and what the Spirit wanted.

In this way, they were not full at all. It was only a claim that they made based on their experience and not based on their partnership in what the Spirit was doing. In the eyes of those who only claimed to be full of the Spirit, these Gentiles could not, under these circumstances, be genuine Christians.

The true fullness of the Spirit enabled Barnabas to see the grace of God at work. The goodness that was the fruit of the Spirit in Barnabas saw the goodness that was going on in the Christians in Antioch. The faith made possible by the Holy Spirit, made it possible for Barnabas to see the authentic and deep faith of the Christians there. He saw that they were “true to the Lord with all their hearts” and he told them to always keep watch over their hearts and stay that way.

Someone who only claimed to be full of the Spirit would have looked and seen chaos. Barnabas looked and saw an organized chaos. It existed where it shouldn’t. Out of what seemed to be chaos, the Holy Spirit worked out the plan.

It started (seemingly) without any forethought or plan. But it was planned by the Lord of the plan and worked out by the organizing power of his Spirit.

The disciples in Jerusalem had not sent missionaries to Antioch. The missionaries drifted there because Saul’s old hatred and persecution had driven them there. But the grace of God had been hidden in that old, long-gone hatred of Saul.

In his old days, Saul had seemed to create chaos. Saul had blasted their easy times to pieces. And the organization of the Holy Spirit reassembled the pieces into a new and surprising shape. It all turned out to be the plan of Jesus; as they knew it should have been all along.

When we are comfortable we really don’t know as much about the Lord’s hand and the Lord’s grace as we think. The fullness of the Spirit enables us to see the grace of God and the Lord’s hand where others may very well not see it at all.

We look at ourselves, and we look at the state of the church in the world around us, and we may not see the presence and the opportunity of the grace of God. We may not see the Lord’s hand with us.

Goodness, the fullness of the Spirit, and faith: these, will enable us to see what we are to do. These will show us where we are to pitch in, and lend a hand, and work in partnership with the Holy Spirit.

They showed Barnabas how to adapt to a complete surprise. They opened up to him a whole new concept and model for doing things, and for being Christians, and for being the church.

There is really no way to prepare for this. Organized chaos seems to be the way the Holy Spirit drives the people of Jesus outside of themselves and into a new life.

This is founded on Jesus. He was the Messiah who took his people completely by surprise; so much so that they killed him.

Without knowing what they were doing they made him a sacrifice for their sins and for the sin of the world. Jesus offered up himself, under the evil and the sin that the world had laid upon him, and he died for it and he rose from the dead to defeat it. This too was a surprise.

Jesus, and what he did, threatened the organized structure (the organized ideas) that his people had built to cope with the world as it was. Jesus was a dangerous chaos to them, and they hated this about him.

Paul said, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ; that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9) Jesus had become poor in his life and on the cross in order to give them the riches of his life in them. They also needed to become poor in order to truly live.

They needed to die to themselves. They needed to be with Jesus on the cross, so that they could rise to a new life with a new order and with the riches of the life of Jesus and the Spirit within them.

This is the heart of the plan. This is the new organization of God that overthrows the order that we would choose for ourselves, if we were in charge.

The new life and the new order for living (that come from God and are a part of the kingdom that Jesus gives to us) are also things you can never plan. They are God’s surprise and they seem to require us to walk through chaos that is actually organized by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit can help us see this, and walk through the chaos by faith, and find, for ourselves, that the Lord’s hand is with us.



  1. hello pastor dennis,
    thank you for a great and inspirational sermon!

    ...we may succeed, but will always fall short of what God has planned for us.

    wishing you a wonderful day!

    p.s. i'm sorry for only just now commenting.

  2. ...organized chaos
    how brilliant!