Total Pageviews

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Taken Captive (Colossian 2:6-15)

Image result for Colossian 2:8 Cults

Sunday, July 28, 2019

*This sermon was originally preached under the title “Filling the Emptiness” at Oak Forest Baptist Church, in Chesterfield, VA, April 27, 1997.  A version of it was subsequently preached under the title “New Life in Christ” on February 29, 2004 at Greenbrier Baptist Church in Arlington, VA.

            “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8).  I hear ‘taken captive’ and I think of being kidnapped or of being a prisoner of war.  Horrifying images of Liam Neeson’s triology Taken come to mind.
            But imagine this scenario.  A young man and woman fall for each other.  He was adventurous, ready for the next journey, not wanting to be tied down.  But now he’s not going anywhere.  She has captured  his heart.  Captured.  It describes the terror of a kidnapping and the beauty of falling in love. 
“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe.
            Remember Yvonne Hill? No?   She was like anyone of us and would feel welcome in our church.  Yvonne was a 38-year-old mother of five.  She was married to Stephen, an inspector for a tile company.  She was a mail sorter at the post office.  Stephen and Yvonne, with their kids, had a close knit family.  She had a deep desire to know God.  Yvonne Hill?  No?
            How about Michael Sandoe, from Abingdon, Virginia?  Surely you remember him, a 25-year-old army paratrooper and veteran of Desert Storm, America’s invasion of Iraq in 1991.  The son of an evangelical pastor, the young man was popular in high school, and an army hero after high school.  From a small, historic town near the Virginia-Tennessee border, he went on to see the world and serve his country.
            Don’t remember Yvonne Hill or Michael Sandoe?  I’ll try one more: Julie LaMontagne.  No?  Really? This 45-year-old nurse from Massachussetts saw her father die of cancer.  She lived in different parts of the country, including California.  She was a good student, a positive influence on her younger brother, and she was a religious person. Julie LaMontagne?  No?
            Think about our church family.  How many among us are caring parents?  How many work hard at our jobs?  How many served in the military?  How many love their families?  Yvonne Hill, Michael Sandoe, Julie LaMontagne; to borrow a popular TV show title, this is us. 
“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe.”
These three along with 36 others were taken captive by bad philosophy, empty deceit, and false religion.  In Colossians 2:8, “elemental spirits” likely refers to evil spirits or demons[i] that have beguiled human beings.  The deceived individuals developed religious practices in their response to the evil that’s taken over them.  Then, they in turn drew others around them into this false religion.[ii] 
In Colosse, the deception came from local deities and the priests who served them.  Paul taught that the Jesus represented the one and only God.  Verse 9 says in Jesus “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.”  Paul said anyone who taught anything other than faith in Jesus is a liar and a fraud.  He wanted to help people get away from using idols and household totems to pray to false Gods like Aphrodite and Artemis. He wanted to help the Colossian church lead people to the one true God. 
Yvonne Hill, Michael Sandoe, Julie LaMontagne did not fall prey to 1st century Greek gods.  What human tradition and elemental spirit captured these three and 36 others?  As I lay out the rest of their story, be thinking about what has grabbed a hold of your attention.  What movement or passion or relationship or politics or religion is trying to capture you or someone you love?
In their search for meaning, in their quest for truth and a fulfilling life, Yvonne, Michael, and Julie fell under the spell of Marshall Applewhite.  He founded the Heaven’s Gate cult, an American UFO millenarian religion.  On March 26, 1997, 39 members of the group were found dead in a house in Rancho Santa Fe, California.  They had participated in ritual suicide in order to reach what they believed was an extraterrestrial space craft that was following the Comet Hale-Bopp.[iii]
Of course if you knew Yvonne, Michael, Julie, or one of the others who participated in this fatally tragic hoax, you ask might why?  Why would they fall for this treachery? How were these bright, hardworking people, good neighbors and good citizens, taken in like this?  God only knows the warped spirituality of Applewhite himself.  Was he deceived by a demon, one of the elemental spirits of Colossians 2:8?  Is that how evil happens?  A demon from Hell draws in one person, a particularly charismatic person, and he in turn suckers the vulnerable and the searching?
We are that.  We are vulnerable, searching beings.  We are certainly no better or smarter or more pure than Yvonne, Michael, or Julie.  You might remember a few years ago, we had a bright young woman share her new member testimony here in church.  She was incredibly smart, earning a graduate degree from UNC and immediately after graduation, a job in her field, here in Chapel Hill, a competitive job market. 
This talented Christian went from joining the church to becoming extremely activity in ministry.  She served in music ministry, hosted a small group in her home, served on the elder board, including a year as chairperson, and went on one of the mission trips to Ethiopia.  No one could be more of a core leader in our congregation than her.  But, before all that happened in her life, before she came to HillSong, she was in a cult.  If we are not convinced by the stories of Yvonne, Michael, and Julie, maybe we see our own vulnerability when we hear a similar story from one of our own. 
Right here in our morning worship, she told her story of being seduced into a cult.  That cult, thank God, did not call on its members to commit suicide.  But she will tell you it was just as dangerous a deception.  Eventually, her sister helped her escape the lies and turn to the only true God, our Heavenly Father, revealed in the Son, Jesus, and present with us, God the Spirit.  We thank God for her rescue and for all people who are rescued from cults like this.  At the same time, we empathize with and grieve for the loved ones of those lost when cults go bad. 
The Heaven’s Gate tragedy is not the only one is America’s history.  On April 19, 1993, a subgroup of the Branch Davidian religion led by David Koresh, who claimed to be the group’s final prophet, ended a 51-day standoff with law enforcement.  The final result was a firefight and explosion which resulted in the death of 76 Davidians.  How did those followers fall under David Koresh’s spell?  Why would they let him convince them to get in a hopeless firefight against federal officials?
November 18, 1978, Jim Jones, founder of the People’s Temple convinced or coerced over 900 of his followers to kill themselves by drinking cyanide-laced Flavor Aid.  Jones was a truly gifted leader who built a community that in many ways seemed ideal and ahead of its time.  But as wonderful his religion seemed, why would the followers knowingly drink poison?  One of the songs they sang in their worship services had this line, sang with great joy and enthusiasm: “something’s got a hold on me.”
Paul knew what he was saying when he wrote, ““See to it that no one takes you captive.”
The best and brightest among us can be lured down the road to destruction by temptation.  The devil lures us in so that we fall prey to him even when we think we’re pursuing truth and seeking God.  No one sets out to practice a false religion.  Whether someone commits crimes or hurts himself as a result of his cult participation, he himself doesn’t see it as false.  He thinks he’s pursuing truth. 
Think you’ll never fall for such a thing as a cult’s lies?  Think back to what I asked you to ponder.  What has grabbed a hold of your attention?  What ideology or trend or social force or past time is trying capture you or someone you love?
Paul wrote this because of how concerned he was for the church in Colosse.  Some kind of competing theology was afoot.  In 1:12, he prays the church will endure.  What trial did they have to endure?  What trials have we endured?  Paul writes in 1:13, “[God] has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”  And in verse 21, he reminds the Colossians they were once estranged from God, hostile in mind, and doing evil.  The reconciliation has come about through Jesus’ death (1:22).
I contend that we, without Christ, are just as estranged from God.  Temptations lurk all around, in every environment in the world as it is today.  We need the endurance Paul prayed for the Colossians.  We need the rescue God provided them through faith in the crucified, resurrected Jesus.  He is the fullness of deity (2:9) and we come to fullness in him.  Any teaching, any promise, any offer that claims to give life apart from a relationship with God in Christ is a lie that leads to our destruction. 
We see our baptism language in Colossians 2:13-14.  “When you were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive together with him, when He forgave us all our trespasses, erasing the record that stood against us with its legal demands.  He set this aside, nailing it to the cross.” 
Our connection to Jesus is our protection against false teaching.  The Holy Spirit helps us avoid falling into temptation and rescues us when we do.  Colossians 2:16 says the Lord “disarmed the rulers … triumphing over them.” 
Your life and my life have meaning, joy, hope, and a bright future when we are ‘in Christ.’  We aren’t captured by His Spirit.  We willingly give ourselves to Him.  That’s your invitation this morning.  Look to the cross and realize that Jesus died that you might have joy-filled eternal life.  You need not fear the enemy that lurks.  Turn to the God that saves, the only true God, and find yourself in Him. 
You’ve thought about your life this morning.  As we sing our final song, come and give to him the things you need Him to take and receive from Him what you need and cannot get yourself.  Come and receive God’s grace.

[i] David M. Hay(2000), Abingdon New Testament Commentaries: Colossians, Abingdon Press (Nashville), p.87.  Hay says the Greek word stoicheia actually refers to supernatural beings that Paul’s Colossian readers understood to be threatening their salvation.
[ii] N.T. Wright (1986), Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: Colossians and Philemon, IVP Academic (Downer’s Grove, IL), p.107.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Thank God for Long Walks

Image result for Long Walks God Psalm 148

Psalm 148:7-10
Praise the Lord from the earth,
    you sea monsters and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and frost,
    stormy wind fulfilling his command!
Mountains and all hills,
    fruit trees and all cedars!
10 Wild animals and all cattle,
    creeping things and flying birds!

Psalm 9:1-2

I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
    I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.
I will be glad and exult in you;

    I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.

            I was on a walk this morning, a little over 2 miles.  I have been walking a lot this summer. The arthritis in my left knee, first identified in 2004, has worsened of late.  It has been about 3 months since I went on a run and I’m not sure when I will again.  Actually saying that out loud, or in this case writing it, can be scary or depressing, depending on how I think about it.  I have lived robustly.  I have hiked up mountains, received black eyes playing full contact rugby, survived army basic training, and endured vicious hits on the football field.  I don’t feel grateful for limitations.
            However, this morning I did.  OK, I wasn’t grateful that I have knee pain.  I was grateful that in spite of the knee pain, I can walk 2 miles or 5 miles.  (I don’t know how I’d do after 10). 
            I was thankful because I feel so happy while walking.  I feel so close to God.  This morning I prayed for my family, for my church, and for people in my neighborhood.  I prayed for people by name.  Sometimes my prayer while walking doesn’t involve me bringing things to God.  Rather, I listen to the birdsong and feel the wind blow over me, and the sun shine on me.  I participate as nature praises God (see Psalm 19:1-4; 148:3-10). 
Is the Psalmist in these and other passages guilty of anthropomorphizing non-sentient life?  I don’t think so.   The earth has a relationship with God that God understands even if, in our scientific way of thinking and seeing we don’t.  The Bible is full of passages expressing this relationship between God and creation.  This God-nature connection is as real as anything is real, even if we might call it ‘mystical.’  When I walk, I get to participate in that beautiful interchange between God and all God has made.  That’s why I never wear earbuds while I am walking.  I don’t want to miss anything!
So, as I walked this morning, I felt myself full of gratitude for being able to walk and able to enjoy a good walk so much.  That sense of gratitude led me to this conclusion.  I need to not spend much time lamenting things like the fact that I’ll never put football pads on again or I’ll never run a 6-minute mile again.  I thank God that was able to do those things.  And I thank God for the miles and miles of walks ahead of me.  I enjoy life when I live thankfully.  I see God’s goodness. 
So, I am looking all about my life for prompts to gratitude.  I don’t have to look very long or very hard.  God is the giver of wonderful blessings and I will thank Him for them. 

Monday, July 22, 2019

"Those who Love God" (1 Corinthians 2:6-16)

Image result for 1 Corinthians 2:6-16

            Facebook has been a joy for me the past three weeks because 2 years ago at this time, our family was on our big Sabbatical trip to Russia, Ethiopia, and Egypt.  On the anniversary of Candy and I posting the pictures from that trip, those pictures pop-up.  So, every day, Facebook’s daily memories feature has taken me back to a very happy and meaningful time.  I know not everyone uses Facebook, and what I have to share will probably reinforce your decision to stay off it, but I thank God for the way this technology has been a blessing.  However …
            Another use of Facebook is the comment thread, where arguments rage.  Person 1 posts a meme or a snarky quote.  Or, Person 1 posts an opinion.  Every one of his 400 friends sees his post, including those “friends,” he doesn’t really know.  He met this guy, Person 2, at a convention last year and they discussed business so when Person 2 sent Person 1 a friend request, Person 1 accepted. 
But he doesn’t really know Person 2 and has not seen him since that convention.  Of his 400 Facebook friends, 50 are people he doesn’t really know.  So now, he posts his silly meme that pokes fun at some political figure.  Business convention guy, Person 2, doesn’t like the joke, so, in the comments section he writes a message railing against this anti-American, racist, anti-Christian meme that Person 1 posted for a laugh. 
Person 1 is not online when Person 2 posts his angry comments.  Person 1 has gone to bed.  But, one of his other Facebook “friends,” someone from his high school days, someone he hasn’t seen in 15 years, snipes back. We’ll call this one Person 3.  With vitriol, he snaps back at what Person 2 wrote in the comments section of Person 1’s quote.  Persons 2 and 3 don’t know each other; they’ve never met.  Yet here they are fighting under Person 1’s post which was just meant to be silly. 
In fact before Person 1 gets back to his computer, 5 different people from his friends group – all five completely unknown to each other – have become embroiled in a no-holds-barred Facebook comments section donnybrook.  Under his silly meme, there are 20 comments that include profanity bad enough to make a sailor blush, accusations of treason, and prophecies of the end of days. 
This kind of conflict – I know we don’t use this word in church often, but I’m going to – is stupid.  Massively stupid.  And the even stupider thing is I get sucked into these things.  This is not hypothetical or something I’ve heard about.  I get sucked in even when I have vowed not to.
This week, I saw one of my friend post a meme and I spent about 10 good minutes typing up my fiery response.  Thank you Jesus, I deleted what I wrote without sending it.  Facebook, I have learned things through conversations I’ve had on your platform.  Because you remind me, I remember greats times in my life.  But Facebook, I am not going to allow you to make me develop enemies or lead me into pointless conflicts that accomplish nothing and go nowhere. 
Some of you who know me and know my Facebook activity are looking at me and thinking, “O Rob, you already do that.”  All I can say is I’m not going to … anymore.  At least I’ll try not to.  Non-Facebook users, don’t judget those of us who do use it.  There’s a lot of good to be done in that platform and even if you don’t use that form of social media, there are chances you too have been in disputes that are pointless and avoidable, just not there. The conflicts that develop in Facebook threads are not worth it. Many conflicts in which we find ourselves can minimized or altogether avoided. 
However, in 1 Corinthians 2, Paul, the author of this letter, sets up an “us versus them” conflict that he feels is very important.
Speaking of himself and the Christians with him he writes, “We do speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age” (2:6).  On one side, in the conflict Paul identifies, stands the believers, those who, along with Paul, follow, serve, and worship God as God is revealed in Jesus.  Opposed to the Christ-followers are the rulers of this age.  In 1:18, Paul calls them “those who are perishing.”  They are lost, and without Christ, lost to God eternally.  In 1:19 he calls them “the wise,” in 1:20, “the debaters of this age,” and in 1:22-23 he implies that these are Jews and Gentiles who do not believe in Jesus.  Paul believes without Jesus, people are lost.  We can choose to reject God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ, and many do. 
In 1:25, Paul refers to “human wisdom” and “human strength,” which is weaker and less wise than God’s foolishness and weakness.  Paul calls them “rulers of this age” in 2:6 and again in 2:8.  That phrase is key for our understanding because it transports this teaching from Paul’s first century Roman-Corinthian context to our 20th century American context.  We have rulers and trendsetters and influencers in our age who are as enamored with their own smarts, accomplishments, power, wealth, and position as were the rulers of the age in Paul’s day.  Like in Paul’s day, rulers of our age do not humble themselves before God.  They constantly seek glory for themselves.
Yelling with exclamation points, all-caps, and angry emojis on Facebook accomplishes little.  But seeing it and understanding that people are far from God, and often their lust for status is why they are far from God is important.  We don’t want to emulate this worldly pursuit of Earthly glory – the American dream or the good life or whatever you want to call it.  We don’t chase that.  In fact, for Paul, chasing after earthly things is destructive for our faith. 
Chapter 2 verse 7 indicates that “us versus them” mindset Paul has.  While “they” are doomed to perish, he writes in verse 7, “we speak God’s wisdom” and “none of the rulers of this age [understand]) (v.8).  Are Christians smarter than non-Christians?  Not by a long shot.  That we can see God in Jesus does not come about from our supreme intelligence.  In chapter 1 Paul wrote, “Consider your own call, brothers and sisters, not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many of noble birth” (1:26).   So how do we who are in Christ understand who Jesus is and give Him the worship and allegiance he is due?
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 2:9 that the wisdom of God is prepared “for those who love Him.”  I want the wisdom of God.  How do I get to be counted among “those who love him?”  Is it as simple as saying, I really love God, and meaning it?  Maybe.  But I don’t trust myself.  I know I can love something one minute, and then get caught up in something, like an inane Facebook argument or a minor annoyance or something bigger, and that love I professed for God recedes to the back of my mind.  As I tried to understand 1 Corinthians 2:9 and tried to grasp who it is that loves God and receives this knowledge, I looked to the Gospels.
In Mark 5, Jesus freed a man who was enslaved by 1000 demons.  They drove the man crazy.  When he was freed and made right by Jesus, he began to truly love God.  In Matthew 9, a woman who suffered non-stop bleeding for 12 years, possibly an obstetric fistula, was healed by Jesus.  She was regarded as “unclean;” Jesus called her “daughter” as he healed her.  She understood what it is to love God.  So did the wealthy, despised tax collectors, Levi in Mark 2 and Zacchaeus in Luke 19. Others hated these me.  Jesus welcomed them. 
This sent me on a journey into the gospels.  I went 11 different stories – rich and poor people, healthy and sick, Jewish and Gentile, powerful and peasant, innocent and guilty – all were marginalized by society and loved by Jesus.  Each one was aware of the need to humble himself or herself before God, revealed in Jesus.  When they lowered themselves and saw their own need, they were ready to receive the healing or forgiveness, to hear the call, and respond to God in faith.  These and so many others in the Gospels are those who love God.  I want to be part of that group. 
It is to this group that God has revealed all things through the Spirit.  Paul writes that the Spirit “searches everything, even the depths of God.  … No one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God” (1 Cor 2:10-11).  The Holy Spirit is in all places and possesses all knowledge.  The Holy Spirit sees into the deepest parts of each one of us.  Nothing is hidden from God the Spirit. 
Of course our way of experiencing the world is going to be different than people who have no relationship with Jesus.  Verses 12-13 say “we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God.”  Without the Holy Spirit, we cannot understand God’s wisdom.  Once we have humbled ourselves before God and expressed faith in Christ, we are filled with the Spirit.  Then, we must not go back to seeing and acting in the flesh, from a worldly perspective, as if God had not acted in us. 
This is one more way Paul points out the conflict between Christians and the rulers of the age.  “Those who are unspiritual,” as it is worded in verse 15, “do not receive gifts of God’s Spirit.”  They cannot understand God’s ways and are cut off from God as their gaze is fixed on human ideas of power and wisdom and success.
So, if we want divine perspective, holy joy, and eternal life, we need to be among those who love God in Christ and receive the Holy Spirit.  As we have already said, the first step is to humble ourselves as sinners in need of forgiveness.  Humbled before God, we confess, repent, and receive Jesus.
But then what?  We are among those who are in Christ, the recipients of God’s wisdom through the Holy Spirit.  What about the world around us, the people still stuck in the world, still cut off from God?  Are they lost forever?
Of course not.  Jesus’ death on the cross is effective for the salvation of all sinners.  How do we help unbelievers turn to God?  Hint: we don’t do it through red-faced angry Facebook arguments.  We don’t get there through in-person arguments either.  We follow Jesus and our friends see Him in us.  The Holy Spirit has to reveal their sin to them and need for God.  We stand by as friends, invite them to church, love as Jesus has loved, and help them when they decide to turn to Him. 
God has given us his wisdom through His Spirit not to be hidden away or hoarded, but to be shared.  So that’s what we do.  We follow Jesus, we love our unchurched friends and co-workers and neighbors, and we help them turn from the vapid promises of our present age to eternal life as children of God, a life lived by all who have turned to Jesus.  We start by putting needless conflicts behind us and humbling ourselves before God.

Monday, July 15, 2019

The Cross: Our Foundation (1 Corinthians 1:18-25; 2:1-5)

Image result for 1 corinthians 2:2

Sunday, July 14, 2019

            Each week at the end of the message I say, “Now is the time to respond to God.”  I invite us all to open our hearts to what God is saying to us and doing in our lives.  I invite any who feel the need to come to front for prayer, whether kneeling at the steps or with me or Angel, or in the back with the elder of the week. 
            I’ll close with this same invitation today.  I’ll say, “Look at the cross and think about what it means.” God in human skin, Jesus who was innocent of crime and had not sinned.  God accepted his sacrifice as atonement for the sins of all people.
            Think about the implications.  God will sacrifice for our benefit.  He didn’t need to die on the cross in order to be God, wholly sufficient and wholly loving and good.  But we need that because our sin separates from God and we all sin.  We make choices, speak words, and commit actions that indicate we have, in small and large ways, chosen ourselves over God. That sin separates us and we cannot wash the sin away with good deeds or with endless repentance. 
The sin is covered by Jesus’ death on the cross.  We are made right by Jesus’ death on the cross.  And Jesus was fully human.  It hurt his body as much as it would yours to be flogged and then crucified.  It hurt his pride and dignity as much as it would mine to be stripped, mocked, and paraded through Jerusalem carrying the beam on which I was to be nailed.  It hurt his heart as much at it would hurt mine or yours to be abandoned by friends, and then seemingly ignored by Heaven when he prayed for another way.  The cross is an indication of how much Jesus sacrificed to help us be right with God. 
So, I will say, “Look to the cross.” 
Then, I will say, “Be fully open, honest, and receptive with God.”  Open – don’t hold anything back, not before He who sees all. He knows your story, but God wants to hear you tell it.  Honest – don’t try to impress God; you can’t.  Don’t try to be tough with God; he knows the weakness in Chuck Norris, and even he has them; and God knows the weakness in you and me.  Don’t try to act like you don’t need God.  There are longings in our lives only God can satisfy, hungers only God can feed, holes in our lives only God can fill. 
Look to the cross.  Be open and honest before God.  Then I will say, “Come and receive what God has for you.”  You might need God to give you a nudge because you’ve hesitated when God said “Go.”  You might need forgiveness because you’re weighed down with guilt.  You might need courage because you’re facing great obstacles or threats in your life.  I don’t know what you need, but God does.  Look to the cross.  Be honest with God.  And come and receive from Him. 
Studying 1 Corinthians 1 & 2 this week, I became aware of just how important it is that we begin by looking at the cross.  Paul, writes in 1 Corinthians 2:2 “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”  In this letter, he touched on marriage, spiritual gifts, the proper way to observe the Lord’s Supper, sexual immorality, the supreme value of love, and the resurrection.  In fact 1 Corinthians is the core scripture text for many of our most cherished Christians beliefs. 
With much to say on so many topics, why does Paul write, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified”?  His Corinthians ministry takes place in a city that’s awash in competing ideas.  The Corinthian contenders jockeying to dictate the spirit of age includes Greek philosophers whose ideas determined the history of ideological development into our present age. 
However, Greek intellectuals weren’t the only ones trying to dictate the way people thought about the world.  Jewish theologians were as committed to monotheism as Greeks were to philosophy.  Jewish scriptures, more historically durable than any other writings in history, and their approach to wrestling with their scriptures – the idea of Midrash – continue to influence human thought today, nearly 2000 years after the writing of 1 Corinthians.  
One more contestant fought on this battlefield of ideas and ideals: the Romans with their power and organization.  They could not match Greek intellectualism or Jewish theology, but they held the power.  Whatever practice of living that would come out of Greek philosophy or Hebrew religion would have had to exist within a Roman system. 
Then Paul comes along and says, “I am not going to try to be smarter than the Greeks or better at religion than my fellow Jews or stronger than the Romans.”  In different ways – intellectual, religious and faithful, and political and militarily – the Greeks, Jews, and Romans, all vied for power.  Paul refuses to play this power game because He knew where real power was found.
Today we live in a swirling torrent of ideas where forces from all sides try to tell us what to think, how to think, what to believe, and how to practice our beliefs.  We have the American concept of freedom.  We are so indoctrinated into the American notion of liberty we believe it is the only way one can be free.
But hold your horses because along with American notions of freedom, we are lured to material wealth.  Capitalistic forces convince us the key to happiness and a life of meaning is found in stuff that we buy or experiences that we buy.  When we consider how relentlessly advertisers bombard us in the attempt to get us to buy what they’re selling, how could we deny that materialism is a force that’s attempting to define the spirit of the age in America, 2019?
Besides American Liberty and Western Materialism, on this spiritual/intellectual battlefield, Personal autonomy wants its say.  You are your own master and your own moral standard.  Do what’s right for you.  In the Marvel Avengers movie Infinity War, the character Star Lord is asked, “What master do you serve?”  Angrily he responds, “What do you expect me to say, ‘Jesus?’”  He goes on to vehemently declare that he serves no master except himself.  Of course, his name is Star Lord. 
Paul’s response to Greek wisdom, Jewish Theology, and Roman power is our response to the attempts made to dominate our souls by American Liberty, Capitalistic Materialism, and Personal Autonomy.  Paul said, “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing”; those without Christ.  “But to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”  He doesn’t claim to have earned it.  Paul does not save.  He counts himself among those being saved. 
We are in that number.  We also need to be saved.  The good news is on the cross, Jesus began the work of our salvation.  How, the wise Greek asks, can this one who died so shamefully save the world?  It’s scandalous, the faithful Hebrew declares, to glorify one who dies as a common criminal.  It’s weakness, the mighty Roman roars, to hang there, defeated.  But Paul writes, “God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe.  For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1:21-24).
Note, even as Paul refutes the different ways we humans define power, he invites all of us into the salvation of Jesus Christ.  In his day, there were Jews who accepted that Jesus was the Messiah and the fulfillment of all their religious hopes.  There were Greeks who came to see that Jesus was the epitome of superior knowledge.  There were Romans who left behind their notions of might and power as they, born again in Christ, surrendered – think about a Roman surrendering – to the power of God.  Paul himself was a child of a Roman-Jewish union, and his right hand man Timothy, the child of a Jewish-Greek union. 
Ethnicity doesn’t matter.  Mixed-race families are fine.  All are saved when we give up our hold on power and surrender our hearts fully to God, confess faith in Jesus and receive the Holy Spirit.  This hodgepodge of people was the New Testament church, and it is the church today.
American Liberty says our country’s story is the definition of freedom for all people.  In Christ, we claim that our greatest freedom is found when we give our hearts to God and become God’s possessions.  As jolting as it is to say it this way, we believe we discover our greatest freedom when we are enslaved to God. 
Capitalistic Materialism has completely bought into the idea that whatever we hope for in life can be purchased.  If I just get that house …; when I have enough for that car I really want; I just need to be able to retire in luxury and ease.  In Christ, we find joy in being extravagantly generous, giving away as much as we can to help others flourish.  In Christ, we claim that our money, possessions, relationships, time, and our very selves – belong to God.  Our greatest happiness is found when we are used by God for His purposes. 
Personal Autonomy insists that we are each endowed with inalienable rights that include the right to determine our own personal destinies.  It doesn’t say anything about inalienable rights in the Bible.  In Christ, we don’t determine who we are.  God tells us who we are.  We come with a story, tell that story to God, and then He is takes our story and invites us into His.  We don’t write our own stories.  We step into the story God is writing. 
Paul “decided to know nothing except Jesus Christ and him crucified” because that’s the foundation.  Life is built when we die on the cross and are raised by God to new life in Christ.  Standing on that foundation, Paul can talk about current issues, theology, households and relationships, worship practices, and creation care.  Paul’s worldview develops after he sets the foundation, his encounter with Jesus at the cross. 
The 21st century has already seen explosive growth in communication, technology, and scientific understanding.  We engage this complicated world after we have met Jesus at the cross.  Whatever new modes of relationships, sexuality, and our understanding of human gender arise in our time, our engagement with the world as it is happens after we meet Jesus at the cross. 
Whatever changes come to the world in the next 100 years – it does not matter.  We meet every new idea or new way of living as followers of Jesus – the crucified, resurrected one.  On the foundation of the cross, disciples are built.  I earlier mentioned the swirling torrent of ideas and change in which we live. The way to stand in swirling winds is to be anchored to a firm foundation and we are when we are anchored to Christ.  
So, look to the cross.  Open yourself completely to God’s love and forgiveness.  In honesty, come, tell God your story and then give it to Him and receive the new story He has for you.  In Christ, you are His beloved child.  Come to Him.