Sunday, September 13, 2015

Transformed by the Cross: The Foolishness of the Cross Is Wisdom

Have you paid attention lately to the “wisdom” offered to our world by celebrities?
“Santa Claus has the right idea. Visit people only once a year.”—Victor Borge
“By all means, marry. If you get a good wife, you'll become happy; if you get a bad one, you'll become a philosopher.”—Socrates
“I am opposed to millionaires…but it would be dangerous to offer me the position.”—Mark Twain
Speaking of temptations… “Don't worry about avoiding temptation. As you grow older, it will avoid you.”—Winston Churchill
And, speaking of getting older…
“I don't feel old. I don't feel anything…before noon. And then it’s time for my nap.”—Bob Hope
And finally, and I really resent this last one…
“The secret of a good sermon is to have a good beginning and a good ending; and to have the two as close together as possible.”—George Burns

Brothers and sisters, where does our world look for wisdom? In times of great uncertainty, where do we turn for answers? In the past couple of weeks, we've witnessed another large drop in our stock market. And many folks wanted answers. “Why is this happening?” “Who is to blame?” (Because someone is always to blame) “What next?” And, as is the custom in times like this, we turned our attention to the television set. We've listened to the wisdom of Democrats as they blamed the Republicans. We've listened to the wisdom of the Republicans as they blamed the Democrats. We listened to the wisdom of CNN and Fox News anchors as they took this issue apart with the precision of a surgeon in an operating room. Our nation's leaders continue to debate the wisdom of a treaty with Iran. Many are for it; many are against it. World leaders meet to discuss whether this is a good idea or not. And others are quick to offer their own views, celebrities, Generals, even preachers! There are many people—“experts”—in our world ready to offer wisdom. But that brings up a very interesting question now, doesn't it: What is wisdom?

Many years ago, in the ancient city of Corinth, people were asking that question. In reality, some were asking that question. Many believed they had the whole thing figured out already. You see, many residents of Corinth prided themselves on having all of the answers. Corinth was a metropolitan, urban community. Businessmen and women (mostly men in those days) would arrive in Corinth to trade their goods. There was a significant canal that ran right through Corinth. It connected the Gulf of Corinth on one side and the Saronic Gulf on the other. If not for this narrow canal, ships would have to go all the way around the south tip of Greece to head toward Italy and Rome. In Paul’s day, this canal was not really a canal. It was a hewed out stretch of land. Ships couldn't sail through it. They were raised up and put on poles and rolled across the roughly two mile stretch of land. Tough work! But still better than sailing all around Greece! But this major trade route brought to Corinth many people from all over the world. Corinth also had its own games, like the Olympic Games. In those times, people would flock to the city to compete or watch others compete. I would assume their athletes received much acclaim, like our athletes do today. But their athletes were not the real stars.

Corinth was a city of philosophers! Educated men standing on the street corners proclaiming their “wisdom” to the world. In the first century, Greek philosophers were celebrities! Rock stars of their generation, and just like our rock stars, they had their groupies. Maybe they even had trading cards! We know they had people to follow them around and tell them how great they were, how wise they were. Wisdom, according to these experts, looked much like the wisdom described by our experts today. The key to life is happiness. The key to happiness is power. The key to power is money, prestige and fame. I have to wonder then, how Paul’s words in I Corinthians 1:18–25 must have sounded to such a wisdom-seeking group.
The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are being destroyed. But it is the power of God for those of us who are being saved. It is written in scripture: I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will reject the intelligence of the intelligent. Where are the wise? Where are the legal experts? Where are today’s debaters? Hasn’t God made the wisdom of the world foolish? In God’s wisdom, he determined that the world wouldn’t come to know him through its wisdom. Instead, God was pleased to save those who believe through the foolishness of preaching. Jews ask for signs, and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, which is a scandal to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles. But to those who are called—both Jews and Greeks—Christ is God’s power and God’s wisdom. This is because the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (I Corinthians 1:18–25 CEB)
I have to imagine that there must have been at least one person reading this letter in the Corinthian church building—after it had arrived in overnight express mail from Ephesus—that was a bit confused! Wisdom…in the cross? The answer to life’s questions…in this humiliating punishment? You have to understand that the average Corinthian had some rather negative connotations for an old rugged cross. Crosses, then, had a different connotation! They were not worn around necks. They were not displayed on the walls of homes. They certainly were not found in places of worship! Crucifixion was a gruesome form of punishment. It was a horrible form of public torture and execution. It was designed to demonstrate to all observers: No one should deny the power structures of this world!  Yet Paul suggests, paradoxically, that the crucifixion of Jesus somehow resulted in God’s victory of those same powers!

I am convinced this was not the kind of God many people were interested in following! The Jews wanted a God like the God of the Exodus, a God that would storm into Rome and defy Caesar, a God that would lead His people to victory through mighty and miraculous and powerful acts. The Greeks wanted a God like the great philosophers of their age. A God that would establish Himself as the leading voice of reason. A God whose wisdom would silence even the greatest rhetoricians of their day. Instead, this poor, homeless Messiah, through His death, modeled a lifestyle that contradicted everything they knew or expected of God! In other words, church, this is not the Messiah they were ready to follow. My question to you is this: What kind of Messiah are you ready to follow?

I know a man that looks awfully foolish to this world. He started a home-building business several years ago. By anyone’s measuring stick, his business has been a tremendous success. He became a multimillionaire in a very short time. He has everything: Money, family, success. But what most people don't realize is that this man has made some very “foolish” decisions. For example, he has, over the last decade, given millions of dollars away each year to people far less successful than himself! Instead of questioning the motives of those whose hands always reach up to those with deep pockets, he has given more and more and more! And how about this foolishness, he refuses to save money! That’s right, you heard me correctly. His business has no endowments, his business has no emergency fund, he has no savings. Why? Because, he said, he wouldn’t want Jesus to return and see his full bank account. He said, “If I have it, someone else doesn’t.” What foolishness! What kind of a person would do such a thing?

I know a group of college students that look awfully foolish to this world. They became aware of the rising and significant problem of homelessness in Lubbock. Instead of looking upon the statistics with heavy hearts like so many others, they started acting quite foolishly! They began sleeping outside with the homeless people of Lubbock in front of the downtown library! They invited the local media to film and report on their activities. Because, they've become convinced of something: The world doesn't listen or pay attention if dirty homeless people cry out for help. But people do turn their heads to see clean, educated, wealthy white college students sleep out in the cold. Their ultimate goal was to have someone or some organization donate a building for the homeless of Lubbock to sleep in throughout the winter. A few weeks ago, this ministry received a grant for $976,000 to build housing in Lubbock for homeless people. What foolishness! What kind of people would do such a thing?

I know a man who looks awfully foolish in a world like ours. For the last couple of decades this man has given his life to a special ministry. There are those in our world who, when a young couple makes a mistake, when they have a child and are not married, there are those in our world who simply turn their backs and walk away. There are, sadly, many people in God’s family who have taken that approach. But there are others who walk with young women who have made mistakes, they minister to them, they help them find pre-natal care for their children, and they help find homes for their children if they are too young or not ready to take care of them on their own. For the last couple of decades Bill Wallis has worked as a volunteer, board member, and staff member of Christian Homes and Family Services. During that time, he has given his life to a seemingly foolish endeavor, helping people who cannot give anything in return! He hasn't done this for riches or fame. He hasn't done this for recognition or even a pat on the back. He has done this because he has been transformed by the cross of Jesus Christ! And though he has never sought recognition, we are going to give him some!

I am pleased to announce that Bill and Georgia Wallis are the 2015 Champion for Children honorees. This will be announced during the Christian Homes and Family Services dinner on November 16. This year proceeds from the dinner will establish an endowment with Christian Homes and Family Services named for Bill and Georgia. For years to come, that money will be used to help couples who need financial assistance to adopt. So, Bill even after you officially leave Christian Homes, your legacy will continue!
The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are being destroyed. But it is the power of God for those of us who are being saved. (I Corinthians 1:18 CEB)
You know stories like these don't make much sense in our world. The fact is, lives transformed by the cross don’t look like anything this world has to offer. What kind of Messiah are you ready to follow? If you're foolish enough to follow Jesus, if you're foolish enough to make that crucified criminal the Lord of your life, if you're foolish enough to follow Him all the way to the grave, if you're foolish enough to actually believe that that journey of death ends with new life, and if you want to begin that new life this morning, won't you come as we stand and sing.

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