God's Power in Unexpected Places

Bible Book: 1 Corinthians  1
Subject: God, Power of; Power of God; Energy, Spiritual; The Cross

This week I learned that—in an effort to provide power—scientists have discovered some surprising—unexpected—ways to generate electricity. Here’s a partial list of their discoveries:

* Some have suggested devices like this where electric power to recharge your phone or I-pad—is generated by simply breathing. This would literally be “breathtaking.”

* In Sweden rabbits have bred as fast as, well rabbits—causing a constant nuisance which has led some farmers to suggest burning the cute little guys to make power.

* Kerry Kiawan has made this formula one race car that runs on chocolate and bio-fats. I think I’d rather just eat the chocolate!

* Some scientists say that bovine gas emissions contribute to global warming—which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. In any case they have suggested solving two problems by using that gas to make electricity. Apparently one cow provides enough methane every day to run a refrigerator for 24 hours. Cool.

* Another idea is to harness the power of people who dance. I can see dads all over wanting to make this happen as a way to pay for their daughter’s wedding receptions. “Everybody on the dance floor! Play faster music DJ!

* Scientists have also learned that Jelly Fish generate electric power. This is how they are able to glow in the dark. However, researches who walked out into the ocean and squeezed them as part of their research had a shock of another kind.

I bring all this up because in our text for this morning, Paul reminds the Corinthian church of some unexpected places where important things are found—specifically WISDOM and POWER.

Take your Bibles and turn to 1st Corinthians 1. Follow along as I read verse 18 through verse 5 of chapter 2.

18 – For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 – For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” 20 – Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 – For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know Him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 – Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 – but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 – but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 – For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. 26 – Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 – But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 – God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 – so that no one may boast before Him. 30 – It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus, Who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 31 – Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” 2:1 – And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. 2 – For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. 3 – I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. 4 – My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 – so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

As I mentioned last week, the church in Corinth was a very diverse congregation.

* Some were slaves—some free.

* Some were former Roman soldiers.

* Some members were from Jewish backgrounds.

* Others were Greek.

In todays’ text Paul was addressing these last two groups—and members of the church who had no doubt been impacted by their flawed thinking. You see, Greeks were from a culture that embraced MAN’S wisdom—especially in Athens. Acts 17:21 says, “All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.” Sounds like a first century version of The View! But this was much bigger—for instead of four or five co-hosts with opinions—there were as many as 50 different philosophical groups in Greece—each of which thought they had everything in life figured out. You may remember many of these “wise” thinkers making fun of Paul’s preaching at the Areopagus—calling him a “babbler” and sneering at his message.

The other group—the Jews—Jews loved the wisdom of the Jewish Law—and they thought of POWER as a political—military force that would free their homeland. You should remember this is why many had rejected Jesus.

Well, these ways of thinking about power and wisdom had apparently crept back into the heads of the Jewish and the Greek Christians who were members of the church in Corinth. Let’s say you were given a mandate to build a company—a corporation—an enterprise—and it had to be sustained 2000 years running and it had to be global. Your business has to be found in the slums of the world as well as in the highest places of society. Not only does it have to have this incredible reach, but it has to do a work of transforming lives with which the world can’t do anything. So you’ve got to take crack addicts and prostitutes and hardened criminals and you have to turn them inside out. That’s your mandate. Okay, if anybody in the business world was given that mandate, how would they begin? They’d go to the Fortune 500 companies. They’d headhunt. They’d get the “A” players.” They’d get the creme de la crème from law schools, the best and the brightest. Those are the people to start with. But God says, “No—I’ll take Mark Adams or…..” Their worldly attitudes were threatening that church’s unity because with their thinking they were polluting down the simple Gospel message. So—in today’s text Paul addresses these issues by stating some unexpected facts about wisdom and power. Let’s begin with what he says about the Source or Basis of all TRUE wisdom–God.

I. God’s Wisdom Is Often Seen As Foolishness

Paul warns the Corinthians—and us—that God’s WISDOM is often seen as FOOLISHNESS to man.

Look at verses 18-20 where Paul says, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.’ Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” The Message paraphrases verse 19 to say, “I’ll turn conventional wisdom on its head, I’ll expose so-called experts as crackpots.”

And we see this foolishness—in much of today’s “wisdom.” Don’t get me wrong—mankind has made great advances in technology and medicine—but whenever a “wise” man leaves God out of his or her thinking his wisdom falls apart. He or she begins to think and reason like—well, like a crackpot!

This week Sue sold a big metal stand-up locker that she got for cheap at a yard sale or something. She sold it as part of our Thrift Store ministry to a man who answered her Craig’s list ad. By the way, I think it’s pretty cool that even before we have a place for a Thrift Store—the team is selling things using social media. In any case Sue had to be at ESL when they locker-buyer came to pick it up so I got to be there to close the sale. In talking with the man I learned that he’s a commercial fisherman part of the year—catching salmon in Alaska and he gave me a very interesting little mini-lecture about Salmon. He said that once they are born they swim down river to the sea where they live for 5 years and then they return to the same river—swim up it to the exact same place they were born. When they arrive—after fighting their way up stream and up waterfalls—they spawn and then they die. The locker-buyer told me scientists have learned that all these dead salmon explain why the soil around those rivers is so fertile. He also told me that the cool thing about it all is the fact that scientists have discovered if there is some natural barrier to the salmon—something that keeps it from reaching its birthplace—like a landslide or an earthquake or an ice dam—the species won’t end because the next year another group of salmon—more fish who were birthed at the same spot—will return and by then the natural blockage will be gone. He said this “fish programming” was an amazing part of evolution. Now–I didn’t want to offend him—because I confess I wanted to make the sale and get that locker out of my garage—but I said to myself, “This guy actually thinks all that just happened by evolutionary ACCIDENT? That doesn’t make any sense. That’s foolish, ‘crackpot thinking.’ How could all that be programmed into a fish’s tiny brain without a Programmer? And—dead fish fertilizing the land—that’s too coincidental to be accidental. It shows a Fertilizer—capital ‘F.’”

Do you get my point? If you leave GOD out of your thinking—your wisdom turns a curious shade of “foolish.” The great and “wise” Albert Einstein once wrote, “The word ‘god’ is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends—which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this.” Einstein’s words are proof of the fact that man’s wisdom elevates self and lowers God—and in so doing it leads to foolish thinking. It’s like basing a mathematical conclusion on a flawed calculation. Without GOD in our thinking our conclusions just don’t add up.

And remember—in our text Paul refers to man’s wisdom as coming from those who are perishing. I don’t know about you—but I wouldn’t look for wisdom as coming from people whose “wisdom” ends in that way. I mean, you don’t ask a drowning man how to swim!

And—think about this. Where have all the world’s WISE men brought us? Never before has mankind been so fearful or so perplexed, confused, and corrupt.

* Are families better—healthier happier with man’s wisdom?

* Is society safer with man’s wisdom?

* Have wars ceased with man’s wisdom?

* Has man’s wisdom ended hunger, abuse, slavery, or suffering?

No—MODERN human wisdom has failed just as ANCIENT human wisdom failed, except that these days, failures come faster and spread farther. Yes—in nations like the U.S. our outer life improves in a material way, but the inner life seems to have correspondingly less meaning.

The real issues are not solved. And the problem is human wisdom sees the immediate CAUSE of a problem but since it leaves God out of the equation it does not see the ROOT—which is always sin. So as the Bible says—the fear of God—the reverence of God as Creator—really is the beginning of wisdom.

Perhaps this is why children—humans too young to leave God OUT—can be so wise at times. This week I came across a story of a teacher who gave her 2nd graders the first half of popular proverbs and asked them to complete the proverbial sentences. Their answers are pretty wise. See if you agree. Here’s what they came up with:

* Better to be safe than…punch a 5th grader.

* Strike while the…. bug is close.

* It’s always darkest before…. daylight savings time

* Don’t bite the hand that….. looks dirty.

* If you lie down with the dogs….. you’ll stink in the morning.

* The pen is mightier than the…pigs

* A penny saved is…..not much.

* Laugh and the whole world laughs with you, cry and….you have to blow your nose.

* Children should be seen and not…..spanked or grounded.

* When the blind leadeth the blind……get out of the way.

All kidding aside—Only God in His wisdom and grace has addressed the root problem of this fallen world—SIN. He did that by sending His only Son to suffer the consequence of our sin—which makes possible our forgiveness and restoration. You see, knowing Jesus gives us a NEW nature and the power to say NO to sin and selfishness.

But Paul reminds his readers then and now that man’s “wisdom” doesn’t understand this. In fact, the greatest example of the foolishness of man is their opinion of Jesus and the cross. By the way, the word Paul uses for “foolishness” here is “moria.” We get our word “moronic” from it. That’s what the “wisdom” of the world thinks of the cross. To many in our culture the way of the cross is moronic—scandalous to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews. It’s the same with many of today’s “wise” men and women. For example, the famous atheist Richard Dawkins once debated the existence of God with John Lennox. Dawkins said of Lennox:

“He believes that the Creator of the universe, his God Who [supposedly] devised the laws of physics, the laws of mathematics, the physical constants, who devised the parsecs of space, billions of light years of space, billions of years of time, that this Genius of mathematics and physical science could not think of a better way to rid the world of sin than to come to this little speck of cosmic dust and have himself tortured and executed so that He could forgive.”

I’m reminded of the scene from the film, Forest Gump where Lt. Dan makes fun of Forest by asking if he’s found Jesus. The Lt. asked that question sarcastically—as if finding Jesus was the dumbest thing a person could do. Do you remember that scene?

But we who have experienced the cross know it is not foolish. We know that it is powerful enough to erase the root cause of all our troubles. And true intellectuals like Paul understand this. I love how another true intellectual named C. S. Lewis put it: “One of the reasons I believe Christianity is the fact that it is a religion you could not have guessed. If it offered us just the kind of universe we had always expected, I should feel we were making it up. But, in fact, it is not the sort of thing anyone would have made up. It has just that queer twist about it that real things have.”

Lewis learned that the message of the cross is really very simple—so simple a child could understand it. This is one reason his Chronicles of Narnia was—and still is—such a best seller. It clearly explains sin, rebellion, sacrifice, forgiveness, Jesus’ atoning death and victorious resurrection. And children all over the world have embraced its truth. Those of us who know Jesus personally—those of us who have responded to the wisdom of the cross have experienced the power of its wisdom—the power Paul talks about here.

To show this, I’m going to borrow an idea from Randy Frazee and give you a handful of scenarios; and I’m going to ask you the question: “Where does this power come from?” And if you think it comes from the cross, say back: “That’s the power of the cross.”

There is a person who deeply hurt you, and the old you would be angry and seek revenge and hold out with complete bitterness. But because of Jesus there’s a new you such that you are able to forgive that person who has deeply hurt you—you’re able to not get stuck in bitterness—able to move on with your life even if that person doesn’t change. What could possibly explain that?

(That’s the power of the cross.)

There is a marriage that is not working. Both of the people are Christians, but they’re in a dry season in their life and nothing seems to be working. The old you would say: “That’s it; I’m done; this isn’t working. This is not what God had planned for me. I’ve tried. I’m done.” But the new you says: “You know what? I’m going to be patient. I’m going to pray. I’m going to try.”

And then sure enough, there’s a breakthrough; and all of a sudden, little by little, this couple begins to experience what God had intended for them. What could possibly explain such a thing?

(That’s the power of the cross.)

A person loses his job. The old you would have been absolutely angry, blaming everybody else but yourself. But the new you is calm and at peace, looking for how you’re going to grow in this experience and utterly trusting in God to take care of you in the future. What could explain such a mindset?

(That’s the power of the cross.)

You are a student in school who wants to be popular; but in order to be popular, you must do things you know you ought not to do. The old you would say: “I don’t want to do these things, but I want to be popular. I want to belong, so I’m going to give in and do these things and try to keep it from my parents.” But the new you says: “No thanks, I am already very popular with Jesus. That’s all that matters.” What could explain such an action?

(That’s the power of the cross.)

There’s a college student who hears a professor go on and on, class after class, basically berating those who think that they should believe in and especially those who follow Jesus. It makes you and anybody who follows Jesus feel moronic. The old you would be completely intimidated by this person’s intellect. But the new you says: “You know what? Human wisdom alone cannot grasp God’s plan.” And it causes you instead to pray for your professor that God might enable him to get it and maybe use you as the agent of the Holy Spirit through what you say or, more likely—through what you do, to help him to get it and to cross the line of faith and experience the power of the cross. What could possibly explain something like this?

(That’s the power of the cross.)

One more. A woman faces a terminal illness. She goes through two years of chemo and radiation and finally the doc tells her that this disease will take her life. The old her would sink into depression—but the new her rises to joy. All who visit her room in those final days feel that joy—that sure and steadfast hope. What can explain something like this?

(That’s the power of the cross.) Do you feel the power?

This is why as Paul puts it, “We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

Okay, let’s keep the “power theme” as we move on to the second unexpected thing Paul says.

II. Man’s Weakness Displays God’s Power

As he no doubt mentally reviews the membership roll of the church in Corinth Paul writes verses 26-28 and says: “Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him.”

This is shocking to the thinking of people like the Jews. As I said, they expected God’s power to be displayed in a mighty warrior—riding a white horse. This is why so many of them rejected the peasant Carpenter from the backwoods hamlet of Nazareth. And the people of today still look for power according to that worldly principle. They look for power in the strong—the talented—the natural leaders of the world. When I was in elementary school (and this was before the day that gym teachers were sensitive about preserving each child’s self-esteem), we would play kick ball.

The gym teachers would pick two kids, usually the two best athletes in the class, and they’d make each one a team captain. Those team captains would choose the teams. And it always went down the same way. The first kids picked would be the really big, strong kids who could kick the ball a mile or more. Then when those kids were all picked, the captains would choose the really fast guys—the sprinters. Maybe they couldn’t kick the ball as far, but they could make it to first base after an infield kick. Once the strong and the fast were chosen all was left was me and the other weak slow kids—the uncoordinated. I was always picked last. I always HATED it when we picked teams because I knew that’s how it would turn out every time.

Well, when God picks His team, He flips it and he does it the opposite way. He chooses the weak—the despised—the nerds—the uncoordinated. He picks people who are NOT wise or powerful according to the world’s standards. He says, “I’ll empower them! I’ll guide and teach them. I’ll display My power in these UNLIKELY people.” Don’t get me wrong—God doesn’t EXCLUDE the talented and strong—the natural leaders. He uses them—but only if they are humble people—people who know they are nothing without God’s power and wisdom.

Sadly though—even today many Christians think the wrong way—the worldly way. They think, “We need more quarterbacks and head cheerleaders and celebrities and athletes. If we could have more of those TALENTED people in the church—think of what we could do!” I will admit—it’s cool when a celebrity becomes a Christian—a kingdom person—but the way we see God’s power MOST—is in unexpected people. Think for a moment. What has been the most profound Christian witness to the culture of America in the last ten years? Was it some celebrity coming to Jesus? No—in my mind it was seen in unexpected people like the Amish families who forgave the man who murdered their children at Nickel Mines, PA. I’m also thinking of the Christian family members who forgave Dylan Roof—even though he brutally shot ten people who had welcomed him to a Bible Study at the AME church in Charleston. I think of these examples because when the world saw the responses of these grieving people, they thought, “I don’t know how those people were able to forgive—I don’t know what it is that enabled them to do that—but whatever it is, I need it in my life.”

You see? God’s power in unexpected, weak people, points lost people to God. God uses the weak—the UNEXPECTED people “so that no one may boast — so that faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.”

Think of Moses. The first 40 years of his life God allowed him to learn how to be somebody. He served in Pharaoh’s court. During the second 40 years God put Moses on the back side of the desert and taught him how to be a nobody. In the third 40 God brought him back to Egypt and showed him how God can take a nobody and make him somebody. And think of John the Baptist. According to God—other than Jesus—John was the greatest man who ever lived. He had no education, no training in a trade or profession, no money, no military rank, no political position, no social pedigree, no prestige, no impressive appearance or oratory. In fact, many people of his day judged him as being very weird. Yet Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist.” (Matthew 11:11) God’s power is seen in weak, even odd people—people like John and Moses. And think of that evangelist from yesteryear, Billy Sunday. He preached and over a million people put their faith in Jesus in the days before radio. But those who knew him said he was God’s joke on the ministry. Billy Sunday murdered the King ’s English and he never had a course in homiletics or Bible interpretation. He was so unpredictable that he once tugged on a man’s flowing white beard and went “honk, honk” right in the middle of an invitation. My point is that God can use anyone—but He often uses the LEAST likely people to do His work.

This Spring Becca went on a mission trip to Romania. She and fellow PT doc, Marti Carroll spent a week working with patients who come to RCE. While there she met two young teens about 17. Alex has Muscular Dystrophy. It’s in the advance stages. He is 40 pounds of skin and bones. Sandu is his roommate. Sandu is nonverbal—and he has this disability from the abuse he endured growing up in substandard orphanages. But Sandu loves his friend — he takes care of his every need. In fact, Sandu wakes himself up every 2 hours to turn Alex so he doesn’t suffer from skin wounds. He’s done this selfless, Godly ministry to his friend for years. That’s a great example of the way God’s power is displayed. It’s seen in WEAK people — the last you would consider.

God is looking for people who are wise enough to know they are nothing without Him — weak people — not SELF-confident but God-confident people. That’s the kind of people God chooses to turn the world upside down. And the reality is that when this world ends, everyone is going to look back and say, “How did you do that one, God, with those kinds of people and with that kind of clientele?”

You’ve heard people who argue against the church saying it’s full of hypocrites and misfits. But no other corporation, no other franchise, could have survived for as long or had the sweeping scope it has if it weren’t made up of the likes of us. The only thing that can explain us is mono sopho Theo, the only wise God.