Posted by on June 29, 2008 under Sermons

Noticing the important things we can easily take for granted …

It is very easy to overlook and take for granted that which is critical. We do not notice air until we find we cannot breathe. We do not notice water until we are extremely thirsty.I recall a moment when I needed water and quenching of thirst as never before or since. It was right here in this auditorium in 1989. Karen and I were newlyweds and we were attending a marriage seminar led by Paul and Gladys Faulkner and Carl and Smitty Brecheen. I had had dental work the day before and used a mouthwash as part of my treatment. It dried my mouth out and left a bitter taste. I sat in the audience and noticed something that to many people would have been ignored. Right next to the podium was a clear pitcher of water. It was filled with ice water and the sides were sweating. I kept staring at the condensation and the water and my mouth got drier and drier. I couldn’t get up easily because we were mid-pew – I didn’t want to disturb everyone. But I was tempted to stand up, ask a question and say, “By the way, could I have a drink.” Who else would have noticed the pitcher of water …

Take a look at the banner that hangs in the back of our auditorium. We went to the effort to make this because we find that it’s message is important and gives us purpose. What does it say?
“Making Disciples for Jesus Who are Eager to Serve Others”

Where does this statement come from? Matthew 28:16-20 and Titus 2:13-15
We often call Matthew 28:16-20 the Great Commission. Simply calling this text “The Great Commission” is a reductionism. It makes it simple to reference, but we can start referencing it by shorthand so much that we neglect what it is saying. We overlook it.
It is easy for us to reduce important matters of faith so that we lose the richness and fullness.

Notice first of all that the setting is very general … “As you are going … .” Going where? Anywhere. Doesn’t really matter. Wherever you go. While you are out and about. The modern missionary movement has emphasized the “GO YE” and the nations. However, nations in this context isn’t the same concept of nation that we have. I don’t want to discredit what missionaries do. Not at all, we need to encourage them. But when we think this statement only applies to them, then we aren’t reading it correctly.

The emphasis is on making disciples. Now what is a disciple? We may think that a disciple is a recruit or a member. It’s someone who signed up. It’s a sale, a buyer, a fish. Jesus spoke a lot about evangelism and being part of the community of Christians, but he uses this word disciple. Why? A disciple is a “learner.” It’s a rather Jewish word. Disciples/learners followed rabbis/teachers. You had to make the cut to be a disciple. But Jesus makes learners out of those who will follow. Jesus wants his learners to make learners and he even wants them to make learners out of those gentile tribes – the outsiders. Jesus was interest in his followers learning more than just information …

Make “learners” – What does it mean to be a learner? What do we learn?

Stanley Shipp – Like all preachers, Stanley has an airplane story. While sitting on his seat a man boarded late. He was in a horrible temper and he was pushing and shoving. He was rude to the flight attendants and complaining. Stanley was thinking, “This man is going to sit by me.” And sure enough he did. The man grumped at Stanley and said something like, “Well, I guess this is my seat, right?” Just then the flight attendant came to the man urging him to get situated because the plan needed to take off. The man yelled at the woman, “I’m trying. Quit bothering me.” He opened up the over head compartment and tried to fit his stuff in it. He took off his jacket and tried to cram it in the compartment. It wouldn’t fit and the door wouldn’t close. The attendant said, “We really need to close that door. It’s regulation.” And as the man argued with the woman who was just doing her job, Stanley got up and moved his bags around. He fit the man’s bags in more neatly. And then he took the man’s jacket and folded it nicely. Now the compartment door closed just as it should. Stanley sat down. The flight attendant sat down. And finally the man sat down. Somewhat humbled, the man introduced himself to Stanley. Not quite saying “thank you” but trying to show gratitude he turned to Stanley and said, “So what do you do for a living?” Stanley said, “I’m a teacher. I teach people how to live.” The man said, “Well, get to teaching. I need it.”

That story makes us aware of what the aim of evangelism and discipleship is really about. Stanley didn’t have to ask the man, “So where will you spend eternity?” When our view of discipleship is reduced to the hereafter, then we can neglect the here and now.

When we think of a disciple as a learner, then we recognize that Jesus’ focus was on the here and now and the hereafter both. How we live now is a seamless continuity with the future.

  • Learners are people who are baptized into Jesus and live like Jesus. They are always in development and under construction. They practice life in Christ.
  • The Great Commission never claims to be the most important Scripture in the Bible. It reflects back on everything Jesus did and taught … it assumes that you know what Jesus taught, or it assumes that you are going to learn it.
  • Being a learner means that the way we live and the way we interact with each other matters – even now.
  • Being a disciple is not membership in a group insurance plan.
  • It isn’t a fast-pass to heaven.

What are we learning? We are learning to do everything that Jesus taught us. Much more than information or special knowledge, we are learning a way of living and a way of living together

That’s pretty obvious in the Titus [2:11-14] text – For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to everyone. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope-the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Do you see the way that here and now and hereafter combine? Do you see the way that information and formation come together. Do you see how the grace and hope in Christ becomes a tendency to do good eagerly?

Tonight at our family meeting we want to introduce you to a focus for our regional ministry.





This isn’t everything we do. This isn’t a limitation. It is a focus. It isn’t a reduction because each of these four is about fulfilling our purpose to make learners.

We are inviting people to be learners with us. Not simply getting some facts straight so that we can ace our final exam, rather we are learning how to live. Inviting college students to learn what really matters. Teaching our kids at every stage what it means to be like Jesus. Learning to be like Christ brings healing to our broken lives. We learn to have hope.

It begins with baptism and then it continues in a life of learning. Not just learning about Jesus, but learning from him. For he is with us always – here and now and in the hereafter.

Remember the Good News!

Posted by on June 26, 2008 under Bulletin Articles

Allow me to begin by paraphrasing Paul’s encouragement to a distressed congregation:

I want to remind you who are now family in Christ of the good news you heard from me. Please remember some essential facts about that good news and you:

  1. You decided to accept that good news.
  2. You continued by choice in that good news-it grants your life stability!
  3. This good news is the source of your confident relationship with God.

Your salvation relationship with God continues as long as you remember and remain in that good news. Remember, three truths lie at the core of that good news:

  1. Jesus Christ died for all of us-his death makes our sins history!
  2. He actually died-his dead body was buried!
  3. He was resurrected-whereas he was for certain dead, he is now alive.

Paul continued his emphasis on the importance of Jesus Christ’s resurrection. Paul said a lot of people saw Jesus alive after he died, including Paul. Jesus’ resurrection was not a Jewish phenomenon affecting only Jewish people-Jesus died for everyone’s sins.

Very young people respond to God because He is the living God who loves them. As adolescents become adults, conversions to God through Christ plummet.

Life often goes through stages for many people. Stage one: you can do anything you desire because you are young and have opportunity. Stage two: you race breathlessly, trying to manage all your responsibilities, get weary doing so, but never admit weariness. Stage three: you have a tinge of fear as you wonder if “this is what life is about” and if “life has passed you by.” Stage four: life is all about your physical future, and your physical future looks less than wonderful (doctors increasingly replace ambitions). Stage five: you are deeply aware that you “cannot go back”; there is neither time, strength, nor energy to “do” your life over; and experience and observation teach you how uncertain anyone’s future is. Sounds increasingly dismal, does it not?

It is-unless… Unless what? Unless you are aware that death does not win! Regardless of what age you are, you have choice. Yes, 20-year-olds and 70-year-olds have the same choice! Is life about physical indulgence with death the unavoidable end, or is life an investment that destroys the fear-hold of death? Amazingly, life often is only about the physical until our death is on our horizon. Then, suddenly, Jesus’ resurrection becomes very relevant, things are just things, and death’s defeat is relevant to the meaning of physical life. Do not waste your collateral! Life is an investment! Invest the only thing that is yours for now-yourself! Good news-God welcomes your investment!

My Name Is Peace

Posted by on June 22, 2008 under Sermons

Please ask Chris Benjamin for permission before reproducing
any of the images, graphics, or charts on this page.

Issues and Labels

  • Conservative and Liberal
  • Traditional and Progressive
  • Spectrum:
      — “Angry Reactionaries”
      — “Cautious Moderates”
      — “Manipulative Change Agents”

The Union of 1832

T. B. LarimoreT. B. Larimore

  • Born July 10, 1843
  • East Tennessee
  • Baptized 1864 in Hopkinsville, Kentucky
  • Attended Franklin College in Nashville, Tennessee

Mars Hill Academy

  • Florence, Alabama
  • 1871 – 1887
  • An influential evangelist and educator
  • F. D. Srygley, Larimore and His Boys

The Issues – Then

  • Instrumental Music in Worship
  • Missionary Society
  • Women’s Roles
  • Re-Baptism
  • Professional Ministers
  • Hermeneutics

Periodicals of 1870’s

  • Gospel Advocate, David Lipscomb
  • American Christian Review, Ben Franklin
  • Christian Standard, Isaac Erret

The Angel of Mercy, Love, Peace and Truth

    “I am for peace – my name is Peace – and no word of bitterness shall ever fall from my lips, even in self-defense.”

Larimore’s Reasons

  • “I can understand how it is possible for them to act correctly and still not always do exactly as I do.”
  • “I love my brethren, and long, long ago solemnly resolved never to go to war … against them.”

“I Belong to Christ”

    “I have never belonged to a ?wing’ of the church or anything else. I belong to Christ, hence to the church of Christ – not to a ?wing’ of the church.”

Time to Choose Sides

    “It is not best, in my humble judgment, to be silent when we see our fellow men, and especially our own family, drifting apart. Thousands of you friends believe you owe it to yourself , your family, your friends, your Saviour and your God to speak out on some matters now retarding the progress of the cause of Christ.”
    – Oscar P. Spiegel

Larimore’s Reply

    “I am sorry to disappoint any of my friends; but it is certainly clearly my duty to leave the discussion of all such questions to wiser, better, abler men and just simply “PREACH THE WORD,” avoiding, always, all questions that ?do gender strifes’ among the children of God.”
    – T. B. Larimore

Preaching the Word

  • Baptized an estimated 10,000 during career.
  • Recognized by Churches of Christ and Disciples.
  • Both sides of the Movement gave him tribute following his death in March, 1929.

The Silence of Larimore

    “Larimore was in no sense a partisan, and he never spoke evil of any man, but he did have firm convictions.”
    – G. C. Brewer (1946)

The Golden Rule

    “I never call Christians or others “anti’s,” “digressives,” “mossbacks,” “tackies,” or “trash.” I concede to all, and accord to all, the same sincereity and courtesy I claim for myself, as the Golden Rule demands …”
    – T. B. Larimore – (Gospel Advocate, 1917)

Peace and Unity

    “Of the seven things Solomon declares to be an abomination unto God, the crown of the climax is ‘he that soweth discord among the brethren.'”
    – T. B. Larimore

“Accept the Right, Reject the Left”

Larimore’s Legacy

    “The fact is that if everyone had had T. B. Larimore’s attitude, the problems would never have been blown up into divisive issues in the first place.”
    – Douglas Foster

One Big Story

Posted by on under Sermons

Spaceship Earth at EPCOTCan I tell you what I did during my summer vacation? Our family went to Disney World and our favorite park was EPCOT. We rode Spaceship Earth at least four times. The line wasn’t very long, the boys thought it was fun, it wasn’t scary, and most of all it was air conditioned.

You begin the ride by boarding a “time machine” which takes you through the history of human communication. It begins with cave paintings and the communications of cave men so that they can be more efficient while hunting. Then the Egyptians invent writing. The Phoenicians and Greeks work on universal alphabets. Monasteries copy writings. The printing press makes books available. Technology develops to make communication more immediate and then of course we end with computers. On the way down, the riders get to use communication to write their future. This is what my kids liked. They got to make goofy faces that are put into a cartoon.

the Benjamin kids

About the fourth time through I began to grasp what it was all about … This narrative about communication was itself a narrative. More than that, it was a meta-narrative. A meta-narrative is simply the one big story that makes sense of everything. As a narrative, it told stories in a creative way.

But if it was going to be a META-narrative (the one big story), then something was missing … here’s what I thought was missing …

John 1:1-14

The gospel and the communication of it in Jesus Christ is a critical moment in human existence. The word becoming flesh has implications for past, present, and future.

What I like about the Epcot ride is that it emphasizes the importance of communication. Communication is important – consider our words – communion, community, commune. These all are related to communication. Communication is critical to forming community.

Communication and words are important to God also. God is a communicating God. He speaks, he writes, he reveals. But finally he communicates in a most extraordinary way through Jesus Christ.

Greek lesson: The meaning of “logos” (“Word” in John 1) is a concept, an idea, a logic. It is a message that is communicated. Not limited to saying and speaking. When God wants to communicate the one big story that makes sense of past, present, and future, he doesn’t just speak, rather he sends …

The alphabet that God used to send the one big story of the gospel was flesh and blood.

The syntax that God used to construct the one big story of the gospel was bone and sinew.

The grammar that God used to tell the one big story of the gospel was the breath and spirit of Jesus Christ.

The one big story of the gospel was not limited to a voice, a note, or a signal. It was told in the flesh. The man was the message …

The message is preached and practiced.
The message is broadcast and embodied.


  1. We ought to pay attention to communication and work at it.
  2. We ought to have some concern for maintaining community.
  3. But the One Big Implication is this: If God became the message, then we also must BE the message.

This is what our baptism was about. We are conformed to the likeness of Christ. May God send us from here as an embodiment of the one big message.

Oops … Too Late!

Posted by on June 19, 2008 under Bulletin Articles

I seemed to be cursed when it comes to growing sunflowers! It happened again! (Yes, it has happened before.) I planted a 16 foot long row of sunflower seeds. They all came up-were about 1? inches high and THICK. The way they came up, I suspected there were too many for all of them to disappear.

I made a plan to protect them by making a small, convenient fence around the flower bed (18 inch chicken wire). Bill and Toka Beall stopped by to see us Thursday night. Bill confirmed that what I planned to do would work. My Friday project was set! I knew where to get what I wanted-by early Friday afternoon my solution against past harm would be in place! I saw the potential problem, in my head I solved that problem, and my reasoned out solution should work!

Friday morning I left for the gym about 6 a.m. (as usual). For some reason, I decided to check my sunflower plants one more time before I bought my supplies. You guessed it-Thursday night a critter ate the whole row (all but one-left to taunt me?).

Oh, well, I could be philosophical and say it happened before I bought the supplies. However, at that moment, I did not feel philosophical. All I felt was this: the critters won-again! I cringe when I think of how many times “dumb” animals made me feel dumb! Good intentions and well-made plans do not produce protection just by thinking!

The lessons in this silly incident are rather profound. It is amazing what we can learn from squirrels, rabbits, or nocturnal critters in general.

  1. Never take tomorrow for granted. It is so easy to decide whatever is will always be. Do not assume that what should be done now will wait on you to do it later. Simply because you see and understand the potential problem does not mean you have solved the problem.
  2. When you know enough to think the situation through, act. Surely, there are consequences to taking action before you know what you need to know. Surely, (also) there are consequences to procrastinating. Rarely will there be a “perfect” time to make a difficult decision. However, making a difficult choice is almost always better than making no choice at all, thus allowing “accident” or “random happenstance” to make the choice for you.
  3. Never ignore the “God factor.” We are not as big as we think we are!

Could we call this the parable of the sunflower plants and lessen my disappointment?

God Is One

Posted by on June 15, 2008 under Sermons

Hard Choices

Posted by on June 12, 2008 under Bulletin Articles

I have no desire to be an alarmist. In fact, I am convinced that a continuing sense of alarm (just of itself) is useless. I certainly am not against sober thinking or recognizing real dangers. However, spending life focusing our physical existence on “what if” as the latest thunderhead appears on our horizon commonly wastes time and misses opportunity. Life is not to be wasted, nor is it to be spent in a continuing state of alarm.

The issue is not, “How can we keep the worst from happening?” The issue is, “Are we devoted to godly existence regardless of what happens?” In the western world, things were deteriorating in the first century. Things did not suddenly get better because Christianity became a part of the physical scene. In fact, many Christians suffered as the western world continued to deteriorate.

Christianity was not a “fix” to cure the consequences of many bad decisions. Christianity was a way to see physical existence through the Creator’s eyes. Because of God’s act, the hopelessness of physical life was not humanity’s only option, and physical death was no longer the ultimate enemy of human existence. The human decisions of the godless could not destroy the eternal options of those in Jesus Christ.

For decades, Christians in this country seemingly had the option (1) in numerous ways to live the lifestyle of the godless and (2) to do so while devoting themselves to traditional expressions of Christian existence. We were prosperous enough to do both. We did so convinced that God protected us from the physically undesirable and prospered those who espoused His values. We did so even though our Savior was crucified, apostles like James and Paul were killed, and numerous early Christians were killed.

What will happen if there is a severe recession in this country? What if businesses fail in unbelievable numbers, and our homes continue to decline in value? What if the job market continues to decline? What if the entire world enters a recession? What if there is massive starvation worldwide?

Believe it or not, Paul understood 2000 years ago that there is an issue more important than any reflected in those questions. He even said that to believe in resurrection if there is none is simply pitiful. He knew godliness was real only if Jesus was resurrected by God.

Resurrection exists for us only if Jesus was resurrected. Life after death exists only if Jesus is the Christ through God raising him from death. Godliness has power only if Jesus is alive. Christianity is worthy of a life investment only if Jesus is enthroned. Eternal mercy, grace, and forgiveness are genuine only if God made Jesus the Christ.

The hard choice: will we invest our lives in Jesus regardless of what happens in our world? Will we be a godly people even if our world enters another period of chaos?

BEING Christian is a Wonderful Experience!

Posted by on June 5, 2008 under Bulletin Articles

In May I had the joy of visiting again a remote region of northern New Mexico. This area is a National Park built around an ancient volcano called Capulin. A roadway and parking area has been built near the summit of the old volcano (it is 8,182 feet in elevation at its highest point). Then a paved, wide path circles the top of the volcano (about a mile in length), and another paved path goes down to the ancient core.

In the past, I loved to walk the rim! It is lined with fragrant Juniper and Western Cedar trees, the air is crisp, and you can see forever around the 360 degree path. As you look, you hardly see any evidence of human activity, only the footprints of God. The views are incredible! Though I enjoy this place a lot, I did not think I would ever see it again.

To our blessing, Ron and Debbie Belote made this trip with us. The night before we went to the park, they decided I needed to walk the rim path with them. I had been walking a mile and a half in Fort Smith, so I figured I had the strength to do it. They made a human sandwich with Ron in front (so I would have someone to fall on if I fell), Debbie behind me (so she could try to catch me if I fell), me with my “trusty cane” in the middle,” and Joyce with the camera to verify I did it. (By the way, I did not even stumble.)

When I got back, “I” had done the impossible (and much enjoyed it), but only because three people encouraged and helped me do the impossible. Three Christians knew what the opportunity meant to me, and they made the “impossible” quite “possible.”

The thought occurred to me immediately, “That is the core of Christian existence!” There are many of life’s experiences that are “impossible” if faced alone, but which become infinitely “possible” when you are encouraged and aided by those who share and understand your faith and commitment.

The issue is never, “Am I weak and flawed?” We all are weak and flawed–never more so than when we pretend to be “strong” and without defects. The issue is, “Will I as a Christian help someone else with their weakness, and let them help me with my weakness?”

Two observations I regard to be important. (1) I must never expect the truly impossible of others. (2) It is as important for me to accept help as it is to give help. (In fact, our help becomes more powerful when we also accept our weakness.)

If you are Christian, you are not committed to do the impossible, but you are committed to do what you are able to do. One of the most powerful things we all have to give is encouragement. With encouragement, God’s help, and the help of those who place their confidence in Christ, it is amazing what a person can do. The combination of faith and encouragement is powerful in a human being! Each of us always can supply the encouragement!