Back in the 1930s or so, Jean Piaget, a Swiss child psychologist, began to help people understand learning does not follow a straight path. People do not learn by just adding new blocks of information to the stack like a child attempting to build the highest tower ever. Instead, Piaget proposed, we develop structures of knowledge where we fit new information into our ways of understanding. The structure works until new information does not fit in our old understanding; then the old understandings have to go away.
A child, for example, may have a cuddly friend at home called a dog. While getting strolled around the neighborhood he learns that other four legged creatures with tails and long noses are dogs. Then he finds a creature that does not have much of a nose at all. Mom confirms his suspicion that this thing might be a dog as well. Now the understanding of dog includes long and nearly absent noses. How wonderful it is to learn about the world! So many things to label dog. Some he can bend over and pet while others can stand on their hind legs and lick dad’s face. Yet they all fit with the structure of dog.
A trip to grandma’s house shatters the system of knowledge. When he sees a calf in the field, he joyfully calls it a dog. The animal fits all the criteria: four legs, tail, nose, kind of big. Mom uses the laugh that he knows means he just said something funny, so he says it again, “Big dog!” Mom informs him it is cow. Only some four legged animals with tails and noses can be called dog; others must be cows. He would later learn goats cannot be called dog or cow.
Our lives as disciples undergo so much learning! Becoming new creatures includes getting rid of old ways of thinking and being as all things become new. Sometimes the new things fit in old categories, but at other times the new experiences literally blow our minds. I continually wonder at the call to have the mind of Christ (Phil 2). Paul called the church to “let this mind be in you.” The church needed to surrender to this new mindedness. The process was not complete. Perhaps we can have the mind of Christ like we can be holy as God is holy; perhaps we celebrate the call into that thinking and that being. We mature while never becoming complete until the day we see Him and become like Him.
Acts 8 provides a case study of this change in thinking. Deacon Phillip transitioned to evangelist as he moved from Jerusalem to Samaria. The city rejoiced as light shattered the darkness. Old categories of shame, control, fear, and manipulation based on sorcery gave way to new kingdom possibilities. They believed. Phillip baptized them.
Even the ex-sorcerer believed. The one who once controlled the thoughts and behaviors of the city truly believed this new message of Jesus. Baptism put down old behaviors and allegiances. Rather than seeking followers, he became a follower. He observed the mighty works of God done through the deacon/evangelist.
Peter and John laid hands on the baptized gathering. They received the Holy Ghost. Since Simon the sorcerer was not excluded from the narrative, I believe the text leads us to believe he too continued from believing and baptism on to new life in the Spirit.
Now the story takes a twist. Simon the new convert offers money to do what Peter did. He too wanted the authority and power to help people receive the Holy Ghost. In his experience one gained new authority through purchasing it or earn it through suffering at the hands of others.
Simon Peter (from now on Simon I) told Simon the new convert (from now on Simon II) to put away his money for it would perish with him. God’s gifts cannot be purchased. Simon II would have no part in Holy Spirit’s work for his heart was not right. Simon II needed to repent. Again.
Simon I discerned the forces at work in Simon II’s response. Simon II had bad heart thoughts. He existed “in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.”
Simon II asked for prayer. The narrator ends the story at this point rather than giving a glimpse of Simon I’s hands on Simon II.
Simon I had the right resume for this encounter. Simon Peter had experienced the perplexity of great new categories of knowledge (Thou art the Christ!) and hearing discouraging words of rebuke (Get behind me Satan!). New understanding would have to be reconstructed to take in additional information. Simon I had learned the need for prayer to uproot things in his heart. Jesus exposed the weakness of Simon’s faith even when the apostolic spokesperson professed a commitment to imprisonment and death. Jesus knew Simon I would fail. He also knew the fallen could be restored.
I see myself in Simon II. I marvel at new spiritual insights and experience the thrill of walking in these new potentials. Darkness flees with such new light. Then I see the needs of others and look for ways to bring the light and hope they need. Sometimes I look in the wrong places for the resources needed to care for others. Sometimes I/we look for another seminar or another technique to bring the kingdom to this new dimension.
May the techniques-focus perish with us.
May we repent. May we find someone to pray for us. May we discover a faith flaw (Simon I) or bitterness from the past that still flavors our walk with God (Simon II). May we receive correction from our spiritual leaders (Simon I & II). May we realize these new ways of thinking will continue to claim us, to disorient our old way of thinking and behaving.
I think I need to pray!
First of all, thank You for all of the past learning! The years have presented many new opportunities to exchange personal, limited understandings for knowledge more in line with Your eternal principles.
Thank You for the gift of correction. Remaining open to new possibilities also provides new opportunities to reject pride. Humility invites us to follow the Spirit.
Today fellowship with a dear ministry couple exposed some of those roots like Simon I and II experienced. I had to confess a spiritual weakness that keeps me from completing a ministry task. Too often I fear rejection or living a life of little value. My understanding moves slowly in the direction You call me to go. Faithfulness in this task should be the reward. Like Simon II, I cannot earn the gift of blessing others. Like Simon I, my faith needs strengthening.
Thank you for the wonder of praying brothers and sisters! Confession and prayer in Your family brings such healing as James said in the conclusion of his book. I stand in need of this prayer as did Simon I and II – such prayer carries the power of Elijah.
Teach us to let go of weaker understandings as You show us the resources needed to bring Your gifts to a hurting world. We cannot do it with our old, limited knowledge.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done!
In Jesus Name,
Thank you for walking with me through Acts 8. Maybe the walk reminded you of significant periods of understanding change. I pray the crisis of faith, ministry, health, rebuke from a loving brother or sister, or suffering has helped you mature and follow the Spirit’s invitation to participate in His work in the world.
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