Talk It Up! – April 6, 2014

Posted by on March 19, 2014 under Front Page Announcements

Talk It Up

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Starting at 9:30 AM

“Talk It Up!” is a day especially designed for conversation, community, and creativity.  We will begin with a combined class, and then worship, followed by conversation over a “family picnic” and dreaming about our opportunities to glorify God.

This journey began with the congregational analysis directed by Don Hebbard in December.  Participation in the analysis was great.  We are adding knowledge to our faith and discovering who we really are as a congregation.  The report suggests opportunities and further discovery for West-Ark.  The first step to spiritual growth and progress is getting together to talk it up.

There will be three parts to the schedule on April 6:

  1. Class & Discussion: All Bible Classes (Bridge 56 and above) will meet in the auditorium at 9:30 AM.  Our shepherds will share what they noticed in the analysis.  They will also share real opportunities and resources for personal and family development that are available to West-Ark
  2. Worship: Our assembly at 10:30 AM will be centered around the Body of Christ and the Greatest Commands.  In our singing, communing, and sharing of the word we will experience the spiritual and biblical realities that ground our discussions, habits, and dreams.
  3. Talk It Up Fellowship: We will be sent out to enjoy a Family Picnic in the West-Ark building.  Food will be served in the Family Life Center but we will gather to eat and talk in groups throughout the building.  We talk and chat during family meals, so we will do the same in these groups.  Each room prepared for a “Talk It Up” discussion will have a particular topic that comes from the congregational analysis (click here for a description of the topics).  There will be enough time during the afternoon to visit three of these discussions.  We want you to choose the ones that interest you most.  Please feel free to join in the discussion or listen and take notes so that you can “Talk It Up” with others later.  Child care for infants through 6th grade will be available in the Family Life Center during the discussion groups.

West-Ark Missions 2014

Posted by on November 1, 2013 under Front Page Announcements, Missions

Mission OfferingMission Sunday Goal Is Set: $224,913

This is the amount we need to raise beginning with our special contribution on Nov. 3, 2013.

In addition to your contributions on Nov. 3, you may submit a pledge card showing your intent to give  certain amount to fund mission efforts for 2014.  Making a pledge allows the mission committee to manage the funds for all the mission efforts in the upcoming year.

A copy of our standard pledge card is available below.

The mission committee has spent time in prayer and conversation considering all requests and opportunities.  The amount that we hope to raise in contribution and pledges is $224,913.  When we reach the fundraising goal, then all of these works can be fully funded.

If you have any questions about the process for contributions or pledges, please contact a member of the mission committee or the office. We encourage everyone to make a pledge or gift.  May God give us the faith to reach this goal so that we might experience (again!) the joy of realizing what God can do through all of us when we commit ourselves to his mission.

mission pledge card

 

Hope Chest Toy Giveaway 2013

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Toy Giveaway

Back to School Blessing

Posted by on August 18, 2013 under Front Page Posts, Sermons

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Blessing 1

Sermon for August 18, 2013 by Chris Benjamin

Blessing 1 — Prayer for Kindergarten – 12th grade led by Ted Knight

Blessing 2 — Prayer for teachers and school workers led by Larry Todd and

Prayer for college students and college faculty led by Dave Cogswell

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Blessing 2

Sermon for August 11, 2013

Posted by on August 11, 2013 under Front Page Posts, Sermons

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Sermon for August 11, 2013 by Chris Benjamin

Blue Jeans Sunday — 2,095 pairs!

Posted by on August 9, 2013 under Front Page Announcements

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.

 

What Does It Mean to Have a King?

Posted by on August 4, 2013 under Front Page Posts, Sermons

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KingSermon for August 4, 2013 by Chris Benjamin

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.

"Windsor Dynasty"

“Windsor Dynasty”

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.

Crown Princess Victoria of Sweeden and Daniel

Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden and Daniel

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.

princesa+letizia+felipe+varela+holanda

Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia of Spain

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, Saudi Arabia

King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia

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!

The King meets The King

The King meets The King

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)

 

The Way of the Cross

Posted by on July 28, 2013 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.

9-11-cross1

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.”

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.