Tuesday, May 03, 2011

The Foundation & the Superstructure

Sioux Falls
I’m sitting in Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, having arrived from four wonderful days in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. This was my third trip to Sioux Falls in the past two years. Linda and I love the people of First Baptist Church and the Sioux Falls Regional Outpouring!

I was joined by my good friends and colleagues Teri, Clay, Lois Jean, Richard, Dick, Norelle, Ed, Ross, and Wayne. Special thanks to Susie and Gerry for your incredible hospitality (Susie gets an ‘A’). And to Shawn for welcoming us.

I enjoyed playing of First B’s worship team (thank you Bob and team). I spoke three times. Here’s a synopsis of what I felt led by God to share.

The calling of every Jesus-follower’s life is “Christ glorified in you, and you in Christ.” This is your raison d'etre. This is Paul’s One Thing: viz., Christ and him crucified. (2 Thessalonians 2)

In 1 Corinthians Paul addresses the Corinthian Jesus-people with this challenge: don’t mess with the Foundation! This is “Temple language.” A “temple” is a place where God dwells, by his presence. In the OT, and until A.D. 70, this meant a physical building. Actually, in A.D. 30, Jesus came into Jerusalem and declared that God’s presence was no longer in the Temple. The religious leaders had shut the door to the kingdom of God (i.e., the rule or reign of God). What people, and we, most needed, was not available, thanks to the legalistic, materialistic, and politicized religious activity. In Jesus we see the prediction of a new “Temple.” Paul spells this out in 1 Corinthians.

The new Temple has a foundation. God used Paul to lay it. This Foundation was: Christ and him crucified. Paul had come with this message, laying it, not physically, but spiritually in the hearts of the new J-followers.

Paul then subcontracted out the Temple construction to people like Apollos. Some of these subcontractors were not building in the right way. They were using cheap, rather than lasting, materials. For example, there was a focus on “great speakers” and “great, rhetorical preachers.” In Greek culture if you could orate profoundly you had great status. Paul asks, “What the heck is going on here! I can’t preach well at all. All I came to you with is the foundational message of ‘Christ crucified,’ accompanied by the power of God.” Paul was, says Ben Witherington, "rhetorically uncouth." But for Paul, this was more than enough. The Message had intrinsic power and did not need rhetorical embellishment. In fact, rhetorical embellishment misleads people into thinking that God’s power resides in “powerful preaching.” For Paul, one could and even should be a weak vessel, so that God’s power will be even more evident.

Nonetheless, the C-J-followers were turning from being a Movement to an Institution, which means from participators to an audience. What do audiences do best? They watch and critique. That’s what was happening, and it was causing divisions. “I like Apollos best!” “Well, I disagree. I like Cephas best!” Some liked Paul best. Some even said they liked Jesus best of all. Into this Church-as-entertainment culture steps Paul, saying “It’s not about human abilities. It can’t be!”

So Paul says to the subcontractors, “Be careful how you build.” And he reminds them, and the Corinthian Jesus followers, of what God is building. “Don’t you know,” says Paul, “that you are a Temple of the Holy Spirit?” This is truly amazing! God is building a Temple on top of the Foundation, and he’s building it with people. God is building a Temple out of the hearts of people. For what? For him to indwell. God’s Spirit… in you. Christ… in you… the hope of glory. Forget the old and false idea of “church” as a building. Real Church is a People Movement called out by Jesus to follow him on his redemptive Kingdom-mission.

Last night in Sioux Falls I talked about God inhabiting his People-Temple with his powerful presence. Where God is, there is power. This is more certain than If it rains, then the ground gets wet. If God is in the House, power is there. The Greek word for “power,” which Paul uses 40 times in his letters, is dunamis. This is power that is explosive. “Power” – ability to effect change. God, by his power, is a Change Agent. And that is precisely what we need, correct? We need change, and to keep on changing, so that Christ would be formed in us. (Gal. 4:19)

I’ve had trouble with charismatic-pentecostal types in the past. I’ve also had trouble with non-charismatics. I’ve been in “church meetings” where we just started off with a short prayer and then pooled our own finite mental powers to thrash out things like should we get round tables or rectangular tables. I’ve even led meetings like that. Some time ago I realize that is not what I signed up for when I became a Jesus-lover. I signed up to follow. The word “follow” logically implies “movement.” I wanted then, and still want now, to be a follower of a Movement, led by Jesus.

I shared these things last night in Sioux Falls. I concluded with this. There’s one person that I have really, really have issues with. That person was actually in the room last night when I was preaching. Actually, that person was preaching. The person I’ve had the most problems with in my life is me. If I could kick the one person most responsible for my problems I wouldn’t be able to stand up for a week.

A few months ago some film students from the University of Michigan interviewed me for a movie they are making. They asked me the question: “As a pastor and leader in your community, what is the biggest problem you see?” I immediately answered: “The biggest problem I see is: me. If I could be changed into greater Christlikeness my marriage would be better, my family would be better, my church would be better, and my community would have a better chance. But I cannot change myself. Yet I believe, even know, that God is powerful enough to change me.

I invited the people there last evening to come forward, and my visiting friends and I would lay hands on them, bless them, and pray for God’s transforming power to be upon them. It looked to me like everyone responded. They came with joy, with tears, in faith and hope. From my POV it felt like a move of God.

There is spiritual Movement in Sioux Falls today. There is a People Temple inhabited by the Spirit of God. Built by God. God gets all the thanks and glory for this.