Church Newsletter article by Chris Benjamin, 19 August 2004
      Our God spoke the world into being. With his divine word, God made reality. Of all the creatures God spoke into existence, only humankind is gifted with the privilege of using words. How shall we use this incredible gift? How shall we live up to this awesome privilege?
      James shows us the inconsistency of blessing the Lord but cursing others (James 3:9). If we are God's people, then the speech that flows from us will be a source of blessing to the world around us.
      We have the opportunity to share words of blessing to our students, teachers, and other school workers as they begin another school year. Learning and education are values encouraged by the Bible. Children and students of all ages are learning how to read, write, and speak. Worlds of ideas and systems of thought are being created with words. In this humble way we participate in the creative work of God. However, unlike God, not all our creative efforts are good. Our words sometimes create corrupted and negative worlds. Our words will be good and blessed when they are blessed by God. God blesses us so we will be a blessing to others (Genesis 12:1-4).
      During our worship this Sunday, August 22, we will initiate a ministry of prayer that will last through the 2004-2005 school year. The focus of our blessing will be all students of all ages (pre-K through college) from all schools (public, private, home) in our area. Additionally, we will focus on teachers, teachers' aides, administrators, and everybody who works with our schools. The good news of prayer is that there is no limit! This Sunday we will explain how you can be a "prayer minister" all year long, but here's what you can expect this Sunday: During the time typically reserved for the sermon we will give attention to God's word from Genesis 12. As part of our lesson we will invite our students to come forward and stand on the elevated stage. One of our elders, Joe Pistole, will pray for them. (Parents should feel free to come forward with the younger children). After the students are dismissed, we will invite our teachers and school workers to come to the stage and one of our elders, Michael Cole, will pray for them. After we conclude the service with an invitation for anyone who needs a prayer for blessing or wishes to be baptized, we will be sent out with a prayer and a charge to pray for someone specific all year. As you leave someone will give you a magnet with a name printed on it. This will be the name of one of our students, teachers, or school personnel. I hope you will take that magnet and pray for this person. You may take more than one if you like.
      That's the opportunity for God's people to be obedient by praying for a blessed year in God's name for our schools. Of all the creatures God spoke into existence, only humankind is gifted with the privilege of using words. How shall we use this incredible gift? How shall we live up to this awesome privilege?

This Sunday is our Back to School Blessing service. Our Scripture is Genesis 12 which includes God's promise to Abram. God promises to bless Abram -- to make him great and make a nation from him -- but God's purpose for blessing Abram is not simply for Abram's sake, but for the sake of the whole world. God blesses Abraham so that he will be a blessing to others.

All of us, as God's people, are called to be a blessing. God has blessed us in every way through Jesus Christ and we must continually rely on His blessings and share those blessings with others. We have been given the gift of speech and we must decide whether our speech and actions are those that bless others or curse them.

This Sunday we intend to recognize God's ability to bless our students, teachers and school workers. This will also begin a ministry of prayer for all of our schools -- home schools, private schools, Christian schools, and public schools in every city. This would be a great opportunity to invite school children, teachers, and anyone you know from your family's school.

    The order of worship:
    1. Welcome and Prayer
    2. Songs
      • #2 - We Praise Thee O God
      • #3 - Hallelujah, Praise Jehovah
      • #74 - Praise the Lord
      • #72 - Blessed Be the Lord God Almighty
      • #364 - Come Share the Lord
    3. Communion [1 Cor. 10:16]
    4. Offering
    5. Song
      • #474 - Thank You Lord
    6. Back to School Blessing
      • Lesson by Chris Benjamin - Genesis 12:1-4
      • Prayer of blessing for all Students - [by an elder]
      • Prayer of blessing for all Teachers and School Workers - [by an elder]
      • Beginning a campaign of prayer (a charge to West-Ark)
      • Invitation for Prayer or Baptism
    7. Song
      • #828 - Instruments of Your Peace
    8. Sending Out Prayer

Genesis 12

God’s Promise to Abraham:
[Genesis 12] 2 "I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you."

  1. God blesses Abraham – God is the source of all blessings. God gives Abram a future and promises to make him great.
  2. Abraham will be a blessing – Abraham is blessed so the he might be a blessing to others. God isn’t favoring Abraham to the exclusion of all others. Consider how this promise fits into the context of Genesis: the first 11 chapters show how the sin has corrupted the world and caused it to be cursed. God reverses the curse with a blessing.
  3. Blessings and Curses – How others live in relationship to Abraham, the one that God blesses, makes a difference. But the way Abraham lives is also important! Pharaoh and Abimelech (Genesis 20) both suffer because Abraham does not live among them as he should.
  4. Blessed through you – Can we infer from this that how God’s people live among others makes a difference not simply for our fortune, but for theirs also? Can we see how we are called to intercede for the world and if we live in suspicion, fear, mistrust, anger or hatred we are bringing a curse on the world?

God’s people are called to be a blessing to the nations, not a curse. We are to be the salt of the earth, enhancing the culture rather than corrupting it. We are supposed to shine like stars in the midst of a crooked and depraved generation. We cannot do so if we are committed to grumbling and complaining (Philippians 2:14-15). We have many opportunities to be a blessing to the world around us – this morning we focus on the opportunity we have to bless students and schools.

Jumping on the "bad-mouth bandwagon" will not help. Nagging about the ills of society will not help. Discussing the sources of cultural breakdown and the problems of families and schools seems worthwhile, but there is something much more effective. If we will humble ourselves and pray to God on behalf of our teachers and students, we will be accomplishing so very much. Praying a blessing is not something extra – something additional to the real work. It is the real work.

God blesses us so we can be a blessing to others. Perhaps the reason we sometimes don’t feel as if we can bless others is because we are inattentive to God’s blessing. We want pray that God bless our students this morning – not only for your sake, but so you will be a blessing to others ...

  1. Elders and ministers were invited to assemble on the upper stage.
  2. Students of all ages were invited to come to the upper stage (pre-K thru college). A song was led during the transition.
  3. Once the students were gathered up front, Chris Benjamin offered the following blessing and charge to them ...

(Directed to youngest children): You’re important to us. The people of this church care about you and look forward to watching you grow up. You are learning so many things in school. What you learn about there matters to us very much.
We also want you to learn about God and his son Jesus. We will help you. We want you to know that God and Jesus are important not just at church and on Sunday, but all the time. That’s why the people of this church are going to pray for you all the time.

(Directed to older children): We love you as you are. You are human just like us and capable of right and wrong. Yet, we challenge you to grow spiritually, to be like Christ. You are our hope for the future church – and you are servants and leaders even now. We believe in you. Faith is not just for adults, so we urge you to "Remember your Creator" during this time in your life.

(Explain the magnets): Someone will be praying for you this year when you are having fun at school, and even when you’re not having fun. Some one will pray for you when you are sick and can’t make it to school. Someone will be praying for you if others are acting mean toward you. And they may be praying for you when you’re not acting as nice as you should. Someone will be praying for you when you feel left out, and also when you have the chance to make a new friend.

Sometime this year someone will be praying for you when you’re taking a test, when you’re playing sports, when you’re performing. Sometime this year someone will be praying for you by name when people are saying bad things about you for no reason, when you’re on a date, whenever temptation is strong. Sometime this year someone will be praying when you are praying on a retreat, when you are reading your Bible, when you are thinking about your place in God’s church.

  1. An elder prayed for the students.
  2. Students were dismissed.
  3. Elders and ministers remained up front.
  4. Teachers and all school workers were invited to come forward.
  5. A song was led during transition.
  6. Once the teachers were gathered at the front, Chris Benjamin offered this blessing ...

(Directed to Teachers and others): It’s an old joke, but you didn’t get into education for the money. In some way you answered a call to be involved in education. I hope you haven’t forgotten that. The world of the curse will deny that calling. It will try to corrupt your love for teaching with all sorts of pressure and criticism. The world of the curse knows only criticism. But you are not merely educators – if you are a child of God you are much more. You are Christians and you carry songs of blessings and words like apples of gold in frames of silver into the world. Your family of faith reaffirms your calling this morning. We want that calling to be blessed by God as you walk and talk like Christ. Our blessing carries this charge – "Be Christ for the schools!"

When we are all at our best, we are all, church and school, committed to a common goal - helping people mature into better people. Jesus said that he came into this world so that we might have life and live it to its fullest – eternally! (John 10:10) Our pledge to you is to work alongside you in that goal.
You are ministers and missionaries of a special sort. In every school, in every city, in every neighborhood, in every family, we call you to model the life of our Lord to the children.

This year both my sons go to school and I realize that another person has an influence in the life of my children. I now realize that I have two options: To bless her, or curse her – and to do nothing is essentially a curse, a curse of unimportance. I will pray for my son’s teachers and everyone at their school and as often as I can, I will "put feet" to my prayers!

We wish to bless you because you have such a wonderful mission. The one who gives a blessing must know that he/she is blessed. To all of you who serve as teachers, principals, school workers, counselors, and in many other ways I don’t even realize I offer you this pledge: someone will be praying for you when you have those victorious moments and the children "get it!" Someone will be praying when it seems they don’t. Someone will be praying for you when you’re convinced that this is your last year, and when it really is your last year. Someone will be praying when you wonder what you are going to do about a student in trouble. Someone will be praying for you when an opportunity to minister open up before you and you feel the awesome responsibility of the moment. Someone will be praying for you when a red-faced parent blames you for their problems, and someone will be praying when a student shares with you his or her dreams and thanks for what you have done for them. We will all be praying as a student gets closer to Christ because of your influence, whether you know it or not.

  1. An elder prayed for the teachers, school workers, etc.
  2. All were dismissed from the upper stage.

Chris Benjamin concluded with final comments that will:

  1. Charge the church to be in prayer.
  2. Give them instructions about the prayer magnets
  3. Give the invitation to prayer and baptism

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 22 August 2004

From the Office of the Superintendent of Fort Smith Public Schools
[Monday,] August 23, 2004

Dear Dr. Benjamin:

I appreciated your Sunday morning focus on education and all those involved with students and their learning activities. You correctly addressed the need for a blessing upon everyone involved in the process of acquiring the knowledge, skills and personal development which education at all levels provides.

It was obvious from the large number of teachers and other school workers who were recognized, that many of the West-Ark family are engaged in these pursuits. Of course, I believe that those who serve in our public schools are clearly "doing the Lord's work" in view of the great needs we see among our student population. The unstable families, tough economic conditions, substandard housing and other challenging factors affect a large number of students served in the Fort Smith Public Schools. For these children, our public schools provide an oasis of hope in what is for many a desert of despair. Serving these children on a daily basis is more than a job. It is truly a calling. Without the opportunities our schools provide, their futures are bleak, indeed.

Parents represent our children's first and most influential teachers. Strengthening the family, providing parents with motivation and skills to help young children develop appropriately and raising educational expectations for all our children comprise some of the most important outreach efforts which our churches and other organizations can provide. All these initiatives help our schools by forming an appropriate partnership which prepares children for good school experiences.

Thank you for your support of public education. While there are other educational options available in Fort Smith, the reality remains that the great majority of students and virtually all of the neediest among us are served by our public school system. We accept the challenge and appreciate the assistance others can provide.

Please do not hesitate to call upon me if I may be of assistance in any way.

Benny L. Gooden, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools

cc: The Elders, West-Ark Church of Christ

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