Sunday, September 27, 2015

Transformed by the Cross: Fools for Christ

"Build an ark."—Evan Almighty
Do you remember Noah? Imagine God tapping you on the shoulder and telling you to drop everything and spend the next generation of your life building an ark!
“But God, why?”
“Because it’s going to rain.”
“Well, God, it’s rained before…”
“Not like this it hasn’t.”
“Well, why can’t you just give me the ark? You are the creator. Can’t you create an ark?”
And finally God says, “Well, I want you to do it.”

I think we may miss the absurdity of what God asked Noah to do. As crazy as that story is, we sometimes just chalk it up to: “Well, that is a Bible story, you know, weird things happened back then!” But, this movie helps us understand just how crazy it would be for God to ask us to do something so foolish! But the story of Noah is only one example of God calling us to do foolish things. God has a track record of calling His people to stand out in a crowd. Listen to this…
So a person should think about us this way—as servants of Christ and managers of God’s secrets. In this kind of situation, what is expected of a manager is that they prove to be faithful. I couldn’t care less if I’m judged by you or by any human court; I don’t even judge myself. I’m not aware of anything against me, but that doesn’t make me innocent, because the Lord is the one who judges me. So don’t judge anything before the right time—wait until the Lord comes. He will bring things that are hidden in the dark to light, and he will make people’s motivations public. Then there will be recognition for each person from God.

Brothers and sisters, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit. I’ve done this so that you can learn what it means not to go beyond what has been written and so none of you will become arrogant by supporting one of us against the other. Who says that you are better than anyone else? What do you have that you didn’t receive? And if you received it, then why are you bragging as if you didn’t receive it? You’ve been filled already! You’ve become rich already! You rule like kings without us! I wish you did rule so that we could be kings with you! I suppose that God has shown that we apostles are at the end of the line. We are like prisoners sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle in the world, both to angels and to humans. We are fools for Christ, but you are wise through Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, but we are dishonored! Up to this very moment we are hungry, thirsty, wearing rags, abused, and homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are insulted, we respond with a blessing; when we are harassed, we put up with it; when our reputation is attacked, we are encouraging. We have become the scum of the earth, the waste that runs off everything, up to the present time.

I’m not writing these things to make you ashamed but to warn you, since you are my loved children. You may have ten thousand mentors in Christ, but you don’t have many fathers. I gave birth to you in Christ Jesus through the gospel, so I encourage you to follow my example. This is why I’ve sent Timothy to you; he’s my loved and trusted child in the Lord; he’ll remind you about my way of life in Christ Jesus. He’ll teach the same way as I teach everywhere in every church. Some have become arrogant as if I’m not coming to see you. But, if the Lord is willing, I’ll come to you soon. Then I won’t focus on what these arrogant people say, but I’ll find out what power they possess. God’s kingdom isn’t about words but about power. Which do you want? Should I come to you with a big stick to punish you, or with love and a gentle spirit? (I Corinthians 4:1–21 CEB)
Sometimes I think Paul would get along really well with our teenagers! Did you hear all of the sarcasm? Paul uses a lot of sarcasm in his letters, and nowhere more than right here in I Corinthians 4! But sandwiched between Paul’s biting sarcasm is a pretty interesting theological statement. Did you hear it? Well, if you didn't, let me just make it plain. If you are really serious about this whole Jesus thing, you must first become a fool.

Acting like a fool for Christ should make us uncomfortable with this world. So, brothers and sisters, I guess the question of the hour is this: Do you feel at home here? Are your surroundings comfortable?Do you fit in nicely with the world around you? Or, does your foolish behavior make you stand out in a crowd? If the people of God throughout the centuries have had anything in common it is that they have been called to live foolish lives. Lives that stand out in a crowd, lives that don't really fit with the cultural norms, lives that in fact challenge the cultural norms. I think of Amos standing up in the middle of an affluent culture…“A great calamity is coming upon us…” “Repent, for judgment is near!” I think of Elijah standing toe to toe with those prophets of Ba’al on Mount Carmel. “Just cry out louder,” he said. “Maybe your god is asleep! I know I’m all alone here, but you are all wrong!” I think of Stephen making a speech in front of the Sanhedrin. I think of Paul defending Jesus before the Roman governor. I think of Martin Luther challenging the corruption of the Church in the 16th century. I think of Martin Luther King Jr. standing up and challenging racism in the 20th century. God’s people have always been called to do things differently, to cut against the grain, but that fact is: In 1st century Corinth, the Christians were not being very foolish!

Instead of relying on God for everything, they thought they had everything they needed without Him. They thought they were brilliant! They thought life was about having all the answers, and worse yet, they felt they had found all wisdom on their own and they didn't need God. They felt very much at home in this world. Those were the issues of Corinthians. But what are ours? In comparing our world to theirs, Richard Hays writes:
The prevailing philosophy of the twentieth century is not Stoicism but hedonism. We are coaxed and conditioned by powerful forces on all sides (advertising, popular entertainment, political rhetoric) to believe that the highest good is the pursuit of individual pleasure. This is still self-determination, but a very different sort from what the Stoics envisioned. The crasser manifestations of this cultural tendency are easy to spot and criticize: rampant materialism, disregard for the needs of the poor, and a bankrupt liberal individualism that attends only to the freedoms of the individual and ignores the concerns of the community. Where we have such things around us, those who are “puffed up” by material wealth and personal autonomy must be confronted with the gospel of Christ crucified.
Let’s be honest: we live in a world that tells us to look out for number one. All too often, we, the children of God, follow those voices instead of the voice of God, who tells us to consider the needs of the community over your own needs, or to consider others better than ourselves. Brothers and sisters, if you hear nothing else hear this: We—the people of God—need to become more foolish! And that means we need to quit putting ourselves first. We need to find ways to lift up others and in the process, we will become transformed by the cross.

Well, doesn't that sound just like something you would hear at church? I feel like we could make bumper stickers out of these slogans: “Put others first.” “Be a radical fool for the sake of Jesus…” We all know God wants us to do these things and I really do believe every single person in this room has every intention of living that way. So, why, then, is it so difficult to actually do it? I run into so many folks—good, Christian people—who say to me: “I want my spiritual life to deepen; I want to be closer to God. But my relationship with God just seems to stay in the same place.” In those conversations, my next comment to them is always the same: Talk to me about how you spend your time. You've heard it said: “You can tell what someone cares about by looking at their checkbook.” The same is true about someone’s calendar. How are you spending your time? Have you allowed time with God and God’s people to take priority in your calendar? Here is a place where we often see a strong competition between “hedonism” on the one hand and “foolishness for Christ” on the other.

I'll start by picking on myself. I enjoy exercising. I enjoy playing racquetball. I enjoy lifting weights. I enjoy running outside and I spend a great deal of my free time exercising. There is nothing wrong with exercise! God wants us to take care of the bodies He’s given us, and I believe God wants us to be healthy. BUT, I must ask myself this question, "Do I spend more time building up my body, or more time building up my spirit?" Compared to the amount of time I spend running or lifting weights or playing racquetball, how much time do I spend: Reading God’s Word? Seeking time with God in a quiet place? Carving out time to be with other people who can help my relationship with God grow?

Okay, now let me invite you into my discomfort (Some questions to consider). Are you making time with God or God’s people a priority in your life? When conflicts of calendar arise in your home, what wins? Band, baseball, homework, the office, time with God, time with the Church? Are you making daily time in God’s Word a priority in your life? The same way you make TV a priority, or, the internet, or text messaging, or sports, or any of those other things that are aimed at making you happy. Are you making the personal investment to be in a Connection Group so you can grow in your relationships with other Jesus followers, so you can have opportunities to invest in other people, so you can show your family that time with God’s people is a priority in your life? Are you making your time alone with God a priority? Are you making your time here with God and God’s people a priority? What things in life are important enough to take the place of these items in your calendar? Look, my ultimate goal is not to push a lot of guilt on you (just a little bit of guilt)! But I cannot say this any more plainly. We will not grow in our relationship with God unless we give God the time He deserves. God will not be the top priority in our lives unless we make Him the top priority.

Believe it or not, that does not mean our lives will be void of happiness. In fact, if Paul is correct, there is more happiness in that kind of life than in any other. To live lives that reflect the image of God to the world, to live radically foolish lives for the sake of Jesus. Paul will say later in the New Testament that when he learned to live like that, only then did he learn to be content in this world. Only then did he get off the treadmill of life—always searching for the newer, the better, the bigger. Paul finally found that a life totally and completely sold out to Jesus. A life that knows it doesn't have to perform to be loved. A life that knows it doesn't have to earn more to be loved. A life that knows it doesn't have to win to be loved. A life that knows it is loved by God. Period. Life just doesn't get any better than that! I pray God can help you find that kind of life, because He’s offering it to you, for FREE!

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