Quite a few other people had stopped by as well. It was kind of hard to find a place to park. Yet before the van had stopped, all of the boys caught a glimpse of what they had wanted so long to have for their very own – a basketball hoop! The dad paused to let the boys out. They ran up to what looked like the sturdiest made, “deluxe” of its day, free-standing basketball hoop. As if to claim new territory, three of the boys gripped the pole with their hands.
The dad finally finished parking the car and walked casually to where the boys were. Eying the hoop from a distance, he quickly ran it through the set criteria in his mind. The criteria had become like clockwork for him. It seldom passed any hoop as good enough, and it definitely never passed any hoop that was in his price range.
However, this hoop looked like a special one. It must have cost quite a bit in its day. Though it appeared weathered in some ways, its design and structure obviously stood above all the others they had ever seen. In his heart he knew that this hoop had “passed”, but he wondered how he could ever afford what they would want for it.
When he got up to the hoop, he quietly asked the boys, “Do you know how much it is?” They looked all over for a tag that might give an asking price, but there was none.
The dad began to think about the money that he had long been putting aside for such a moment. For years he hoped that one day he would have enough money to buy a good hoop for his boys.
Finally he got the attention of a man who seemed to be the owner of the house. “How much were you asking for this?” he asked. “Well,” the owner replied, “how much can you afford?”
The father thought about negotiating, but thinking that his cash was far less than needed, he became too timid. “I have some money put aside in an old wallet at home. I’ve been saving up for one like this for my boys, but I don’t know how much is actually there. I’d have to go home and get the wallet.”
He felt almost embarrassed for such a candid reply, yet that was the truth. It seemed that his honesty and a small amount of cash was all he could afford to offer that day. Part of him thought he was crazy for even asking in the first place.
“Well, why don’t you go home and get your wallet, and we’ll see what we can do”, the owner said. Somehow his tone implied that something good was going to take place.
While the father drove home to get the wallet, the boys surrounded the basketball hoop. Two of them never let the pole leave their grip until the dad came back. It seemed like hours, even though their home was just less than 15 minutes away.
Finally the father returned. After finding a place to park, he got out of the van and started walking toward the hoop.
He reached for something in his pocket. In his hand he unfolded the wallet which he had devoted years ago for this special purchase. It was the receptacle of bite sized change taking forever to become something he and his boys so much wanted to have. Whether a dollar or two or just a coin or two, somehow his dream stayed alive. Though it often wanted to dry up like the wrinkles in that old leather wallet.
Could the day have finally come? Had their dad really saved enough to purchase the hoop?
“I have 93 dollars and 56 cents, sir.” And he held out his hand with the sorted bills and coins.
The boys were shocked that the amount had grown so high. The wallet always seemed so meager compared to what it was supposed to purchase. They often thought their dad was even crazy for trying, yet they all loved him for it anyway.
The father felt helpless while awaiting the owner’s reply. He had stated his bottom line – his “only” line. No negotiating, no hiding. Would it be enough to purchase the hoop?
The owner remembered how much he had paid for it – so long ago, so many children ago, so many summer afternoons ago. He knew that he had already gotten what he had paid for.
And quietly he had decided that whatever the amount the father would offer him would be acceptable. He couldn’t help but feel that it would be more cherished now by this new family than when he bought it brand new.
“Sold!” he said. “And I sure am happy to see the thing getting some good use again! Why, I’ll bet your boys will give it a good run for their money. Looks like you’ve got some good talent here, and maybe they’ll give me some credit when they get a scholarship or two!” he chuckled. “Do you need any help getting this home?”
Before the father could answer, another man standing nearby seemed to understand this special family moment and said, “I have a flatbed, I live just up the street. How ‘bout I take it to your house for you?”
The father knew that he had just walked up to a divine moment, something he had longed for years to see. His faithfulness and love for his boys had paid off – this was the hoop that he had been looking for and he even had the money to buy it.
The boys lost all inhibition at that moment, as they began to laugh and yell, and even jump up and down. What a find! What a moment! It passed the father’s test, and even matched what the father had saved to buy it!!
That was many years ago. Now the boys are all grown and have families of their own. They’ve never forgotten that day, for it became one of the best days of their life. Often they have told the story of that special day.
Two of the sons in fact did get basketball scholarships. And on the day of graduation, they both made a point to stop by to see the man who had sold the basketball hoop to their father. The man had not forgotten them either, and congratulated them with warm grandfather hugs.
As the sons have told this story over and over, it has given them opportunity to express their love and gratitude to their dad. For it was the love and faithfulness of their dad which to this day they can’t ever forget and can’t ever stop being grateful to him for.
Do you think any of these sons would ever tell the story without talking about their dad? Can you imagine any of them giving credit to “the wallet” rather than to their dad?
How would the dad have felt if he heard his sons proclaim, “It was the WALLET that sacrificed all those years! It was the WALLET that wanted to provide a basketball hoop for us! It was the WALLET that put the money aside! It was the WALLET that paid the perfect price! The WALLET was perfect! The Wallet, the Wallet, the WALLET!”
No, it was their DAD who they wished to talk about, and they loved to brag about him. They told how their DAD had saved and saved, and insisted on waiting for the right hoop. It was their DAD who all those years loved his sons and wanted so much to provide for them. It was their DAD’s heart and his faithful, sacrificial saving for them that they gave honor to all these years.
To give credit to their dad’s old WALLET would have been ludicrous, heartless, and in fact – a lie.
So it is to talk about Jesus and how He died for us. Where He died and how He died – the cross – was simply like that wallet.
No one who truly loves Him can speak about the vehicle of His death (His cross) without naming Him in the very same breath.
No one who truly loves Jesus can speak about the vehicle of His death without bragging about His incredible love that caused Him to lay down His life for us!
No one who truly loves Jesus can speak about the vehicle of His death without telling others the many important things He taught during His lifetime on earth!
Imagine if those sons were to do a special TV program to honor their dad. Could you imagine their not putting their dad’s name anywhere on the set, but instead having their own names in big, bold letters?
Can you imagine finding the phrase “Message of the Wallet” in small letters nearby, but nowhere naming their dad?
Paul said that he preached “(Jesus) Christ and Him crucified”, and that is what he did. He did preach about the vehicle of Jesus’ death – the cross – but not nearly as much as he preached JESUS who died there! He did preach how Jesus died, but also preached why He died and what He desires and expects out of those who follow Him because He gave His life!
Specific topics Paul preached on were
- encouraging one another
- living properly (lovingly) as husband and wife
- living holy while single
- acknowledging and helping the poor
- not giving special treatment to the rich
- testing the spirit of those in spiritual leadership
- testing the lifestyle of those in leadership
- not causing a brother to stumble
- laying down our life for the Lord and for people
- identifying and addressing tolerated sin in the fellowship of believers
- looking after the needs of single mothers
- proper relationship between parents and children
- suffering for the sake of the Gospel
- becoming nothing so that Jesus can become everything
(Oh, and did I mention that Paul also preached on love?)
For Paul, to preach “Christ and Him crucified” meant more than just saying “the message of the cross” over and over and over. He named Jesus constantly and preached the heart of Jesus – on multiple relevant matters – all the time!
He spoke from the living, breathing Holy Spirit for living breathing situations and needs of the real people he ministered to. He did not simply mouth the words “message of the cross” flared with a new twist, cited in a new context, or marketed with a new wrapper every week.
Beware when the WALLET is wrongly given credit rather than the DAD who actually gave the gift. Be sure, the wallet and the dad are NOT one and the same. Be sure, the wallet and the dad do not share equal importance in the story. And if someone tells you that the wallet was the hero and not the dad, then they are telling you a “different story” – a lie – and you are not to believe it.
Beware when the INSTRUMENT OF DEATH is wrongly given the focus and honor rather than the perfect Lamb who willingly died – JESUS CHRIST. Be sure, the cross and Jesus Christ are NOT one and the same. Be sure, the cross and Jesus Christ do not share equal importance in the story. And if someone tells you that “the cross” was the hero and not Jesus Christ the Savior, then they are telling you a “different gospel” – a lie – and you are not to believe it.
Heed this warning from Paul himself: “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!” Galatians 1:8