Sermon for August 11, 2013 by Chris Benjamin
Update October 4, 2013 — 2,095 pairs of blue jeans were given! Thank you to the Mulberry, Dayton and 9th Street congregations who also contributed, making this an area-wide effort.
To God be the glory!
Wear a pair. Share a pair.
Some of us wear blue jeans to worship every Sunday. Some of us wear them only on a few occasions. Some wear them just on this day, and some wear them never. It’s all good.
Regardless of your choice of attire for worship, please let’s all bring a pair of jeans (or more) to donate to the Hope Chest. Blue jeans – especially men’s and children’s jeans – are an important item in the Hope Chest’s ministry. The Hope Chest specializes in giving clothing to those in need. No item is as needed or as useful as blue jeans.
We will announce a goal for the number of jeans needed. In the meantime, start gathering all the jeans you can find.
Our worship is loaded with royal language. We sing of thrones and majesty. We pray to the Lord. We speak of sovereignty. We bow our heads in reverence.
But what does it mean to have a king?
For most Americans, having a king means watching the Windsor family of the U.K. as if they were another reality show.
They are a pleasant but sometimes troubled bunch who are quite mannerly and high class (except when they misbehave). They wear fancy uniforms and big hats but they do not have any real authority – which seems to make them all the more endearing to most Americans.
It is amazing that we continue to be fascinated by this single set of royals. The new baby is named George and it was his ancestor named George that burned us on the whole notion of kings over 200 years ago.
Why aren’t we more diverse in our appreciation of royal families? For example, Princess Victoria of Sweden married her personal trainer, Daniel. You have to appreciate the fact that this “non-royal” man married a princess and he didn’t have to slay a dragon to earn the opportunity.
Our nation has as many ties with Spain as it does Britain. So why aren’t we paying attention to the Spanish Royals. Prince Felipe has a beard that makes him resemble a pirate or “The World’s Most Interesting Man.” His new bride was a news anchorwoman. She also wears strange hats.
As long as we are going to take an interest in royals, let’s take an interest in those with actual political power.
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarch. It’s good to be the king! But I suppose we think of him as a political leader rather the impressive yet harmless royals with whom our supermarket papers are obsessed.
Are we obsessed with the British royalty because the Queen has had such a long reign? Before anyone tells me that Queen Elizabeth II has been around for a long time, let me say that the King of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej, has reigned since 1946. He was king for six years before Elizabeth II was crowned. He is the world’s longest-reigning current monarch. We should give him some credit. The King and his wife, Queen Sirikit, are incredibly popular and loved by the people of Thailand. He even hung out with Elvis Presley and seemed to enjoy it. The King of Thailand and the King of Rock!
Why does any of this matter? It matters because it demonstrates that Americans do not know what it means to have a king. A colleague from South Africa in graduate school pointed that out to me years ago. I believe he is right. Our understanding of royal concepts in Scripture and worship are hindered by our National Inquirer relationship with one royal family. We do not get it when we speak of the Lord of Lords. I believe we treat the title Lord as nothing more than a show of respect like saying “Sir and Ma’am.” What we should grasp is that having a king means much more than respect.
What does it mean to have a king? It means we know that one person has true authority. Jesus said it himself, “All authority on heaven and earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 28:18). That authority hasn’t been given to anyone else since then. Jesus needs no heir since he is eternal. Church leadership is one thing. We have many gifts of leadership in the church, but authority rests solely with the King – that is, Jesus Christ. Church government is not a difficult concept to understand. Regardless of how one positions elders, pastors, deacons, apostles, bishops or any other office, church government is an absolutely monarchy with Jesus Christ as king and everyone else as subject. End of discussion.
What does it mean to have a king? It means we know the lasting significance of the gospel. The death, burial and resurrection of Jesus are about three-fourths of the early church’s confession of the gospel. The remaining fourth was the testimony that the risen Christ is exalted to rule as God’s King. (see Phil. 2:9-11) God has exalted Christ and given him a name above all names. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that he is Lord. It is not an option, just a matter of when. Americans may not understand this because our history is unique, but even with our unique government we do have a King. No, it’s not the royalty of any nation on earth. It is the King over the Kingdom of God.
What does it mean to have a king? It means we have someone to follow. That means we bow down. We do not elect a king. We do not crown him king. We do not make him King. God has done that. We bow down. Which means we worship. Our worship is a political act of reverence to the true power in heaven and earth. This is why empires and governments get nervous about the Christian faith at times. Faithful Christians recognize one lasting authority. Sure, we may be respectful of other governments and even serve them when they are not opposed to the way of the King, but our allegiance and obedience is reserved solely for the Lord of Lords and King of Kings. All of our other commitments are an outgrowth of that single allegiance.
Without a king, we find ourselves in the sad situation described in Judges 17, 18, 19, and 21 – “In those days Israel had no king and everyone did what seemed right in their own eyes.” The king is the defender and standard of what is right and just. We look to the king for the standard of what is right. Otherwise everyone is right, which means no one is.
What does it mean to have a king? It means that we must choose a side. There is no where on earth where Christ is not king. There’s no such thing as a Christian nation because there’s no such thing as a non-Christian nation. Those are concepts left over from Christendom and they assume that a government may opt-in to the Kingdom of God. A reading of Scripture indicates that it doesn’t work like that. Christ is king everywhere and in everything. His rule is complete. Some choose to accept it, whereas others reject it. Rejecting the authority does not nullify it. All the world may resist and war against Christ and his followers but the Lamb of God will triumph because God has made him Lord of Lords and King of Kings. (see Rev. 17:14)
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.”
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.
- 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)
- 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.
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 . . .
- Have an answer. Not a fabricated, doctrinally approved answer, but a genuine sincere answer that we own with conviction.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Sermon for July 7, 2013 by Chris Benjamin
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
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.
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
1 Peter 2:11-14
Sermon for June 30, 2013 by Travis Campbell
Sermon for June 23, 2013 by Travis Campbell
June 16, 2013 – Dragons are featured in ancient stories, modern classics, and video games:
Beowulf, The Hobbit,
and Skyrim. Even the new movie Pacific Rim is about knights in shining armor defending the world from terrible monsters. In every form, there’s something about the story of the knight and the dragon that reminds us the there is a conflict between good and evil in the universe.
The best known story of a knight fighting a dragon is the story of St. George. St. George and the Dragon is everywhere! You will find it represented in nations from England to Ethiopia. Monuments and illustrations depicting St. George slaying the dragon are visible in cities in the Americas, Europe, and Africa.
Why does the story of a knight fighting a dragon appeal to us?
“Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on its heads. Its tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth. The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth, so that it might devour her child the moment he was born. She gave birth to a son, a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron scepter.”
I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.”
“The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.” – G.K. Chesterton
“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” – Neil Gaiman
The dragon may be the most fearsome thing that we can imagine, but even the dragon fears something!
- these limitless terrors have a limit
- these shapeless enemies have enemies in the knights of God
- there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear.
The dragon fears the rider on the white horse!