Old Testament Survey

Posted by on July 28, 2013 under Curriculum

Old Testament Survey
{397KB PDF}

These 14 lessons, written by Jerry Canfield, have been edited and updated in 2013. The study is an excellent source of Bible class discussion material. Anyone who desires is granted permission to reproduce the material for Bible study use, so long as no financial gain is involved.

The Way of the Cross

Posted by on under Front Page Posts, Sermons

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The Way of the Cross Sermon for July 28, 2013 –  Despite the fact that we have sometimes focused too much on being an institution, Christianity is not an organization looking for recruits.  Jesus calls us to a way of life that takes the cross as its symbol.

The cross signifies and symbolizes a way of life, but what does this cross represent?  What does it mean?

We wear cross shaped jewelry.  Tattoos of crosses are popular.  These are typically a means of identifying or marking one as a Christian.  They are a tangible and personal way of embracing faith.  Before this, crosses typically marked places of worship.  The cross on a steeple consecrated or indicated a place of worship.


The Cross at Ground Zero

The cross persists in our culture as a powerful symbol.  When the cross is observed in our world, our art, and our culture we have some immediate notion that it is religious.  When two girders in the shape of a cross were discovered in the devastation of the World Trade Center on 9/11, workers and on-lookers responded with piety and reverence.  Much was written and discussed about the cross at Ground Zero.

The skull beneath the cross is typical of Orthodox iconography

The skull beneath the cross is typical of Orthodox iconography

When our mission team was in Bulgaria we noticed that the orthodox cathedrals were filled with depictions of biblical stories.  The cross was always prominent.  In most cases, there is a skull beneath the cross.  It represents death and it is a sort of religious hieroglyph to denote Golgotha – the place of the skull.

Throughout history, depictions of the cross have shaped worship and how we participate in communion.  Artwork surrounding the altars of cathedrals are some of the best known images of the crucifixion and the cross.  Matthias Grunewald painted the Isenheim Altarpiece between 1512-1516.  The altarpiece was painted for the monastery of an order of monks known for their care of the sick and those suffering from plagues.  The image of Christ on the cross demonstrates suffering and seems to be diseased.  The other figures, such as John the Baptist and the lamb, are also symbols.  The cross for the monks who worshiped at this altar was a symbol of suffering.

The Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grunewald, 1512-1516.

The Isenheim Altarpiece by Matthias Grunewald, 1512-1516.

In 1611, Peter Paul Rubens completed a triptych titled “The Elevation of the Cross.”  A group of mighty strongmen struggle to lift the cross of Christ.  Surely two or three of these brawny blokes could lift the cross, but Rubens is probably making a statement.  He may be signifying that the cross bears the sins of the world or that the crucifixion is a weighty matter of great importance.  Yes, there is incredible action and tension being portrayed and it is fair to admire Rubens technique as a painter, but with work is not without a message.

The Elevation of the Cross by Rubens, 1611.

The Elevation of the Cross by Rubens, 1611.

In this painting the cross is depicted as a most important moment in history.

Another painting that depicts the raising of the cross also has an embedded message.  Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (you may call him Rembrandt) painted his own take on the crucifixion in 1633.  He really got into his work – literally!  There are two men at the crucifixion, one in a turban and one in a painter’s beret.  Both of these men resemble Rembrandt.

Raising of the Cross by Rembrandt, 1633.

Raising of the Cross by Rembrandt, 1633.

A religious and devout man, Rembrandt may be confessing that because of his sinful nature that he too is responsible for the crucifixion of Christ.  In Rembrant’s painting, the cross is the focus of our salvation and perhaps even our guilt.

In the 20th century, Salvador Dali attempted to combine religion, science, and art.  Leaving behind his stage of melting timepieces, Dali entered a period of depicting religious scenes.  His depiction of the crucifixion known as

Corpus Hypercubus by Salvador Dali, 1954.

Corpus Hypercubus by Salvador Dali, 1954.

Corpus Hypercubus is often considered his best work from this period.  Completed in 1954, the Cross has been changed into a polyhedron net of a hypercube.  The cross floats above a two-dimensional surface and a lone woman offers adoration to the figure on the cross.  The cross (or hypercube?) in Dali’s painting is transcendent and mystical.  It is heavenly.  It is no longer resembles the contorted suffering and gritty detail of Grunewald’s altarpiece painting.

Even without a crucified Christ, a cross symbolizes something about Christianity (even if we are not completely sure what that is).  Likewise, the pose of the crucifixion has become a visual reference to the crucifixion and Christianity even if a cross is not present.  Among the many movies and images that depict a crucified-pose are Cool Hand Luke (1967) and Omega Man (1971).  The main characters are each a type of messiah or savior.  The director of each movie communicates that fact without words simply by showing the character in a crucifixion style pose at some point.

The image of the cross and the crucifixion persists in our culture.  Still, what is the way of the cross?  What does it mean?  We need to get past the veneer of religiosity and go deeper than a simple visual shorthand to faith.  We must enter into deeper reflection and imitation of the significance of the cross.

Crucifixion, Seen from the Cross by James Tissot, 1890.

Crucifixion, Seen from the Cross by James Tissot, 1890.

There’s one more image of the crucifixion that I think unique in art history.  Not a well-known piece but one that triggers reflection because it is so different.  In 1890, the watercolor painter James Tissot painted the crucifixion.  However, he does not show Christ or the cross.  His painting of the crucifixion is shown from the perspective of the Messiah on the Cross.

In this image we are no longer permitted the safe distance of spectators or movie-watchers.  The cross is cannot be reduced to a symbol or artifact.  We are not even allowed to stand reverently as pious worshipers.  Instead, we must join Christ on the cross and see the world and all of humanity through the event of the crucifixion.  We see the world from the cross, just as Jesus did.  An endless collection of humanity stares onward, some with pity, some with scorn, some with reverence.  Others are just doing their job and going about their business.  What may we gain from this perspective about the way of the cross?

1. The Way of the Cross calls us away from sin and to righteousness.  (1 Peter 2:24).  Week after week in our worship assemblies, the cross becomes nothing more that a spiritual bailout for the debt of our sins collected each week.  Unfortunately, this overemphasis on indebtedness and guilt stunts our growth in righteousness.  The apostle Peter reflected on the cross and called it the beginning of a life of righteousness, not just the end of sinfulness.

2. The Way of the Cross calls us to reconciliation and peace.  (Eph. 2:16).  If Christ died for all of humanity, how can we justify hostility?  Don’t try to justify it or you will shame yourself.  When Jesus looks at all of us from the cross and we know that he is reconciling all of humanity to God, then it makes no sense that should hate one another.  We often divide and disput over minor issue that have nothing to do with the cross.  We should discuss these issues, but resorting to division when the cross stands among us as a death to hostility is truly sinful and shameful.

3. The Way of the Cross calls us away from the world and its self-righteous values.  (Gal. 6:14).  Rather than emphasize our own ability to accomplish great things, the cross reminds us that we are at our best when we trust in Christ.  Our good deeds do not save us.  One of the criticisms of Christianity from outsiders is that God unfairly rewards good behavior with heaven.  There’s no such teaching in Scripture.  The cross shatters the notion that we can justify ourselves through religious deeds.  Rather, trust and obedience to God is the way of the cross.

4. The Way of the Cross calls us to endurance and faithfulness.  (Heb. 12:2-3).  Following Christ is not always east but it is worthwhile.  In those moments when we grow weary and we are ridiculed or persecuted for our faith, we can look to Christ.  He endured the cross.  He had the power and the authority to end it, but he had to pioneer the way of the cross for the rest of humanity and bring an end to the way of violence and the way of “might makes right.”  It is difficult for us to stay on the way of the cross in a world that promises peace through strength and superiority.  We will be called haters and when we affirm that obedience to God matters.  We will be called unpatriotic when we pledge our allegiance to Christ.  We will be called naive when we believe that ministry to the poor and weak might change the world.  Consider Christ and do not lose heart.

5. The Way of the Cross is discipleship. (Mark 8:34).  Self-denial is often confused for self-hatred.  Likewise, self-love is confused with indulgence.  Discipline leads to maturity and discipline involves self-denial.  Not for the purpose of punishment, but for the sake of growth and maturity.  A disciple is not a member of a church, and making disciples is not a matter of recruiting people to a religious organization.  A disciple is a learner and follower.  Jesus himself said that following him involves taking up our cross.  That sort of talk even disturbed his disciples like Peter and Paul who could not understand the Way of the Cross at first.  It was, and is, scandalous to some degree.  It is a high calling, but a calling to everyone that excludes none.  There is no other way to save our lives.  Our own attempts to save ourselves will end badly.  But if we give our lives to God as Jesus did (the cross) then God preserves life.

The cross separates us from the illusion of this world that offers us the false promise of happiness in “doing whatever we will.”  The cross and the resurrection affirms the truth and the better way of “doing what God wills.”

Reformation and Post Reformation Overview

Posted by on July 26, 2013 under Curriculum

The Canfield Sunday Morning Bible Class is continuing a look at notable milestones in God’s working His redemptive purposes in the World and through history.  Last Sunday and this Sunday (July 28, 2013) we are looking at the Reformation.

I’ll paste below a link to a 35 page .pdf which represents a couple chapters in Walter Brueggemann’s Theology of the Old Testament.  These two chapters provide an excellent overview of the background/circumstances/personalities and progressions of Reformation thought.

For those of you interested – enjoy.


Jim Wilson

The Word of God

Posted by on July 21, 2013 under Front Page Posts, Sermons

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Word of GodSermon for July 21, 2013 by Chris Benjamin

The Word of God is more than a book, a scroll, or a constitution for church government.  The Word of God is living wisdom animated by His Spirit.  The Word of God is creative in the sense that it is active and generates new realities and new creation.

Please do whatever it takes to read and hear the Word of God!  Join a group that reads the bible, commit yourselves to the public reading of God’s Word, use it as the basis of telling stories to one another and to children, just please incorporate it into your lives.

1. Open It Up.

Spectrum of Translations

Spectrum of Translations

  • Jesus understood who he was from Scripture.  He quoted 24 different Scriptures to describe who he was.
  • Seek to understand the word of God in your own language.  There has never been one official translation or version of the Bible.  It is translated freely into many languages so that the message may be shared.

2. Respect the Gravity of Scripture

  • Scripture isn’t flat.  Some stories have more significance than others.
  • The Exodus and the Gospel are defining events.
  • Jesus says that the Law and the Prophets hang on the most important commandments to Love God and Love Your Neighbor. (Matt. 22:37-40)

3. Faith Comes By HearingJustin M

  • Let Scripture become our language in the church
  • Read it, tell it, speak it, think it.
  • When we read it aloud we are shaped by the living word.
  • 1 Timothy 4:3; Col. 4:16 – The word was shared with the community in assembly.

If Anyone Happens To Ask You

Posted by on July 14, 2013 under Front Page Posts, Sermons

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July 14, 2013

The Gospel Blimp – A book by Joseph Bayly in the 1960’s warns us to never confuse methodology with the message.

  • For the original book look here
  • For the comic book adaptation look here
  • For a related blog look here
  • For a good commentary on the Gospel Blimp look here

We haven’t resorted to loud speakers or blimps (yet) but we have had our share of gospel blimps that attempt to attach the message of Christ to a particular method.

When we focus too much on methodology, we expect certain results and rely on our own techniques.  The message of the gospel gets reduced to a formula and oversimplified to the point that it loses real meaning.

We need to be ready when we are asked questions about our faith.  (1 Peter 3:15)

We can give a reason for the hope that we have.  To be ready we need to have four things . . .

  1. Have an answer.  Not a fabricated, doctrinally approved answer, but a genuine sincere answer that we own with conviction.
  2. Have the right attitude. There is no reason for arrogance.  We are not trying to establish control or privilege.  We are showing respect by sharing the truth.  Even if the question is hostile or skeptical, we can still respond with respect.  Even if our answer disagrees with the worldview of another, we can still show respect.  Respect is shown by sharing the truth without arrogance or pretense, not simply telling people what they wish to hear.
  3. Have the courage to live out our faith.  If we expect to be asked for the reason for our hope, then let us make that hope visible.  One of the barriers to Christianity in the United States is the Christians sometimes do not appear to live significantly different lives than non-Christians.
  4. Have patience in God.  We should focus on being truthful, and leave the results to God.  If our measuring stick for effectiveness is similar to those used in sales, then preachers like Paul and Stephen (Acts 8) would be considered failures.


Start School with a Blessing

Posted by on July 10, 2013 under Front Page Posts, Uncategorized

colored-pencilsBack to School Blessing & Worship Service
Sunday, August 18, 10:30 a.m.
West-Ark Auditorium
900 N. Waldron Road, Fort Smith, AR
Let us pray for you all year!

August 18 is Back-to-School Blessing Sunday!

West-Ark is keeping one of its favorite traditions, the Back-to-School Blessing.  On Back-To-School Blessing Sunday, we make a special effort to bless our school children, college students, teachers and school workers.  This Sunday begins a personal commitment to praying for these individuals.  Here is why we do the Back-to-School Blessing:

  1. Praying is every Christian’s ministry.  The Spirit distributes different gifts as they are needed, but every child of God is given the privilege to pray.  The Back-to-School Blessing gives our members the opportunity to focus on praying for specific individuals.  On August 18, you will be able to take a card with the name of a student, teacher, or education worker.  Your pledge in taking that card is to pray for that person during the upcoming school year.  Your prayer is a ministry to that person, and over the years we have heard how our students and teachers/educators have been blessed because someone like you is ministering to them through prayer.
  2. West-Ark has a particular calling to Campus, Kids, Healing, and Hope.  The Back-to-School Blessing fits all four of these.  Our first ministry to our campus ministry and our youth is to pray for them.  We also believe that by praying for our schools and our young people, we are contributing to the healing of our community and our nation with the hope that our God is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine.
  3. It is unifying.  The Back-to-School Blessing illustrates how all generations work together in God’s plan.  Also, it brings together all of our schools – our public, private, college, Christian, and home schools.  We include just about everyone in this event.  Everyone can pray and everyone needs prayers.
  4. It is mission work.  Our best opportunities for evangelism in this region will be through our schools. We have many stories that testify to this.  When Jesus noticed that the fields were white for the harvest, he told his disciples to begin by praying to the Lord of the harvest.

Get ready for the Back-to-School Blessing.  If you are new to our church family and work in a local school (home, public, private, etc.), we want to know.  Send us an email at office@westark.org.

As extracurricular events are beginning before the official start of school, please invite your friends, neighbors, and co-workers to the August 18 Back-to-School Blessing.

Faith And Citizenship

Posted by on July 8, 2013 under Front Page Posts, Sermons

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Sermon for July 7, 2013 by Chris Benjamin

Hristo and Vania Video

Timeline for Bulgaria

1. Bulgarian State: 1878-1946

2. Communist State: 1946 – 1990

3. Transition Era: 1990 – now

Seminar: The Power of Faith, Hope, and Love

America’s First Atheist Monument

Faith and Citizenship are related.  Faith informs the way a follower of Christ practices his or her duties as a citizen.  Just as faith informs and guides the way we live our lives in all contexts.  However, citizenship must not take precedent over faith.

Faith and Citizenship are not the same thing.  If we think that our faith depends on the blessing or affirmation of the government, then we ought to re-think what we call our faith.  It may be that our faith is in worldly institutions rather than the kingdom of God.

St. Augustine, City of God

The Epistle to Diognetus: For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers

Romans 13:4

1 Peter 2:11-14

Family Lines — July, 2013

Posted by on July 5, 2013 under Bulletins, Front Page Announcements

Family Lines — July 7, 2013

Family Lines — July 14, 2013

Family Lines — July 21, 2013

Family Lines — July 28, 2013