Chris Benjamin

chrisbenjamin.com – my corner of the internet

Perspective

August 21st, 2013

A perspective is a view or outlook.  One of the first lessons learned in drawing or painting is perspective.  The artist is trained to see the relationship of all things and render three-dimensional vistas into a two-dimensional representation.

Perspective is good not only for the artist, but for all.  Sometimes we  need perspective.  We need to see the relationship of all things.  We need to realize that we only see a part of the whole.  Perspective makes us pay attention to the details that seem troublesome when isolated, but make sense when seen in relationship to other things.

Perspective in worship is good.  It saves us from tendencies and extremes.  We have a tendency to focus on old songs and new songs, but do we ever focus on “Christ-songs?”  Here’s some perspective: what is old was once new; what is new will one day be old.  However, Christ is still Christ – always has been and always will be.

The hymn “O Sacred Head” has not always been in the form it is now.  It changed over the ages.  It originated as a Latin poem that focused on the different parts of Christ’s body as he was crucified.  Eventually, the stanzas concerning the head and face of Christ were translated and recomposed into the English hymn that has been around since the 18th century, but that old hymn is an innovation of a much older poem, Salve Mundi Salutare.

The writer of this poem recognized that the cross gives us perspective.  The poet believed that paying attention to the details of the crucifixion would wake us up to the futility of violence in our world.  The cross corrects our perspective that our reliance on our strength and our power to control all things is necessary.  Instead we see that it only leads to death.  A cross-focused perspective opens our eyes to the truth that God’s love can bring life out of death.

The Value of Life

August 9th, 2013

This one who is life itself was revealed to us, and we have seen him. And now we testify and proclaim to you that he is the one who is eternal life. – 1 John 1:2

Perhaps you have never heard of Callistus, Benignus, or Afra.  These disciples of Jesus lived a long time ago; as in “second and third century A.D.” long ago.  I propose that we rediscover their stories and the stories of other disciples like them.  Callistus, Benignus, and Afra took on the care and responsibility of children that were literally thrown away because they were unwanted.

In the ancient world, the absolute value of life was not a given.  Children could be seen as a burden on limited resources or viewed as cursed or weak if they were born with deformities.  Long before the concepts of natural selection or eugenics, the notion of survival of the fittest was entrenched in civilizations that feared death and worshiped power.

The Jewish and Christian value of life often cut against the grain of ancient society.  In early Christian teachings, abandonment of infants and children was condemned.  Yet, the value of life was so strong for a people who believe in eternal life, that they often went one step further and took the “throwaway children” into their homes and raised them.  This not only saved their lives, but it also protected them from those who would sell abandoned children as slaves and prostitutes.

Martyrdom of Afra of Augsburg

Afra, who lived during the last part of the third century, was a prostitute before she was converted and began her new life as a disciple of Jesus Christ.  Afra not only saved the lives of unwanted children, but she organized others to help.  Many of the children that Afra and her fellows saved were the children of criminals, slaves, and prostitutes.  Afra was not praised for her work.  The local authorities condemned what she was doing; she was persecuted and martyred.  Her only crime was assigning value to the life of innocents.

In the early part of the third century, Callistus of Rome, who was raised as a slave and later imprisoned, served Christ after his release from slavery and prison.  Callistus organized what would be known as the “Life Watches” in which disciples of Jesus would be vigilant to rescue abandoned children and place them into the care of other disciples.

Afra and Callistus were followers of “the one who is life itself.”  They preserved the lives of multitudes who might have otherwise died.  Perhaps an infant or child who may have been your ancestor.  Let us remember the stories of Afra, Callistus, and others like them.  We need their inspiration because even today, centuries later, the absolute value of life is not always a given.

What Does It Mean to Have a King?

August 7th, 2013

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.

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

Historically, the U.S. 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.  That lack of familiarity with true royal experience keeps us from fully appreciating the royal language of Scripture and worship.

A colleague in graduate school, a man from South Africa, pointed that out to me years ago.  He said, “You American do not know what it means to have a king!”  I must admit that he is right.  Our understanding of royal concepts in Scripture and worship are hindered by our National Inquirer relationship with a particular 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 that we know the one person who 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.

This authority also means that our religion and politics are blended in ways we often do not recognize.  More on this below.

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 bow down.  This is the religion and politics connection.  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 we shrug and assume that everyone is right; which often means no one is right.

What does it mean to have a king?  It means that we must choose a side.  There is nowhere 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 and thus expand the K.O.G.’s territory.  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 the authority.  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)

 

Coffee and Community

August 5th, 2013

That’s an appetizing title, isn’t it?  I thought about naming this entry “The Demise of the Coffee Pot” but that just seems ominous and grouchy.  I also considered “Reflections on a Keurig” but that is too highbrow.  Besides, I want some corporate kickback if I am going to mention Keurig – (aw, did it again).

I remember Stout’s Grocery.  It was the family run grocery and gas station on Highway 71 at the bottom of our hill in Brentwood, Arkansas.  If you went to Stout’s at the right time of the morning, you could catch the “Brentwood City Council” meeting.  It wasn’t official of course as Brentwood was unincorporated, but the folks from all around were gathered and drinking coffee and discussing all the news that mattered for our area.  The only excuse our unofficial community needed to gather for business was drinking coffee.  The only coffee available was whatever the Stout’s had brewing.  Sugar and creamer was about all you could have to personalize it.

Last week we bought a Keurig for the office.  It was a community effort.  We were all opening the box like a new Christmas present.  Here is this device that can brew anyone his or her own flavor or brand of coffee – even tea – without wasting an entire pot of coffee.  No more negotiations on caf or decaf.  No more compromise on Folgers vs French Vanilla.  Everyone gets a cup of personal choice.  No longer is there the coffee pot from which we all drink – all of you from all of it.

I wonder what this means for community?  I wonder if Keurig will be like Coke and Xerox and lend its brand name to all single cup coffee brewing machines?  I wonder what the Brentwood City Council would think about all of this?