The Signs of Political Idolatry

The last week has been both a relief and burden for me.  I am relieved that we have finally progressed past the campaign/election season in America.  But I am burdened by the manner in which we engaged one another and the reactions to the election results.  Part of the U.S. population is elated at the results while the rest of the population is dismayed.  Some states are even campaigning for secession from the Union.  In Denver, my city, there were two Christian leaders who hosted wake ceremonies to memorialize the death of the country!  This is most disconcerting!  If we believe that all men are made in the image of God, then how can we do such a poor job of engaging one another?  If we sincerely believe that God is our sovereign king, then how do we declare despair so readily?

It seems to me that three invariably linked issues drive much of the acrimony:
1)    We think too highly of our ideas!
2)    We undervalue the ideas of others!
3)    We do not sincerely believe that God is sovereign!

In a nutshell, we are guilty of idolizing our own political agendas.  Invariably, this results in the maligning of views that do not correspond to our own.  And the greatest of all atrocities is found in the fact that God’s role as King (an office with no term limits) gets lost in the process.  If He is the Sovereign Lord the day before the election then how does one sincerely host a funeral the day after the election?

The whole experience has revealed an unbridled idolatry that is rampant among us.  It needs to be called out and addressed.  Idolatry is the act of preferring anything over the fame of our King.  It is the act of drinking filthy water and choosing it over the refreshing spring that is our God (Jeremiah 2:11-13).  During election season our political views were as filthy water and God was relegated to being one of the many voices in the debate.  With all due respect to our esteemed political pundits, it does not work that way!  God did not come to take sides; He came to take over!  (Romans 11:36; Colossians 1:15-18)

Tim Keller visited this issue and I wholeheartedly affirm his assessment.  I have posted it below.  Give it a read and let us prepare our hearts for repentance.

Brandon Washington
The Embassy Church
…making God famous throughout the world.
www.theembassy.org

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The Signs of Political Idolatry
-By Tim Keller

“One of the signs that an object is functioning as an idol is that fear becomes one of the chief characteristics of life.  When we center our lives on the idol, we become dependent on it.  If our counterfeit god is threatened in any way, our response is complete panic.  We do not say, ‘What a shame, how difficult,’ but rather ‘This is the end!  There’s no hope!’

This may be a reason why so many people now respond to U.S. political trends in such an extreme way.  When either party wins an election, a certain percentage of the losing side talks openly about leaving the country.  They become agitated and fearful for the future.  They have put the kind of hope in their political leaders and policies that once were reserved for God and the work of the gospel.   When their political leaders are out of power, they experience a death.  They believe that if their policies and people are not in power, everything will fall apart.  They refuse to admit how much agreement they actually have with the other party, and instead focus on the points of disagreement.  The points of contention overshadow everything else, and a poisonous environment is created.

Another sign of idolatry in our politics is that opponents are not considered to be simply mistaken, but to be all together evil.  After the last presidential election, my eighty-four-year-old mother observed, ‘It used to be that whoever was elected as your president, even if he wasn’t the one you voted for, he was still your president.  That doesn’t seem to be the case any longer.’  After each election, there are now a significant number of people who see the incoming president lacking moral legitimacy.

The increasing political polarization and bitterness we see in U.S. politics today is a sign that we have made political activism into a form of religion.  How does idolatry produce fear and demonization?  Dutch-Canadian philosopher – Al Wolters taught that in the biblical view of things, the main problem in life is sin, and the only solution is God and his grace.  The alternative to this view is to identify something besides sin as the main problem with the world and something besides God as the main remedy.  That demonizes something that is not completely bad, and makes and idol out of something that cannot be the ultimate good.

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.  For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.  (Romans 13:1 ESV)

Put your hope in God and the work of His gospel.  One part of the gospel people forget is the end game, the cross-made a way for God to reconcile broken people like you and me here and now.  It also made a way for God to fully reconcile this broken planet in the not to distant future.  The gospel is at work in our lives, in our nation and in the nations.  The gospel is not dependent, nor determined on mans government.  It is a completely different kingdom, one that is eternal not temporal.  Until such a time – pray, proclaim and play in the light of His good news.”

Tim Keller is an American Christian apologist, author, speaker, and the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, New York.

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Is Church Membership Biblical?

As we prepare to facilitate The Embassy Church’s first covenant membership class for our new members I saw fit to post a blog that affirms such an action on our part.  By what authority do we call people to enter into covenant as members of the local church?  While preparing to draft the essay I came across this article by Matt Chandler and it makes precisely the same points that I affirm so I opted to post his article instead drafting my own.  Suffice it to say, I contend that this is not a matter of individual or denominational preference.  Covenant membership is, in fact, a biblical presumption.  Without it, many of the biblical imperatives (e.g., responsibility of elders, church restoration,  believer’s accountability) lose all meaning.  Chandler addresses these points in the following essay.  Give it a read and let us initiate a fruitful conversation.  I would love to hear from you.

Brandon Washington
The Embassy Church
…making God famous throughout the world.
www.theembassy.org

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By Matt Chandler

“The spouse of Christ cannot be adulterous; she is uncorrupted and pure. She knows one home; she guards with chaste modesty the sanctity of one couch. She keeps us for God. She appoints the sons whom she has born for the kingdom. Whoever is separated from the Church and is joined to an adulteress, is separated from the promises of the Church; nor can he who forsakes the Church of Christ attain to the rewards of Christ. He is a stranger; he is profane; he is an enemy. He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the Church for his mother.”  — Cyprian, Treatise on the Unity of the Church, 6.

I was 28 when I became the pastor of Highland Village First Baptist Church (now known as The Village Church). I had had a rough go early on in my church experience, and at that time I was not fully out of my “disenchanted with the local church” phase.

In all honesty, I wasn’t sure at the time that church membership was biblical. Despite that, the Spirit had made it all too clear that I was going to be pastoring this small church in the suburbs of Dallas. That was one of the many ironies of my life in those days.

Highland Village First Baptist Church was a “seeker-sensitive” church in the Willow Creek mold and had no formal membership process, although they were actively working on one and wanted the new pastor’s input. I had a strong understanding of the church universal but wasn’t well versed—and, as I said, somewhat skeptical—about the church local. We started growing quickly with young and oftentimes disenchanted 20-somethings who usually had no church background, or bad church backgrounds. They liked The Village because we were “different.” This always struck me as strange because we weren’t doing anything but preaching and singing.

In conversations with these men and women I began to hear things like “The church is corrupt; it’s just about money and a pastor’s ego,” or “I love Jesus, it’s the church I have a problem with.” My favorite one was, “When you organize the church it loses its power.” Although something occasionally resonated in me with these comments (I, along with most of my generation, have authority and commitment issues), I found them confusing since they were being made to me by people who were attending the church where I was the pastor.

TWO QUESTIONS FROM HEBREWS 13:17

With conflicts already brewing over other doctrines that I viewed as far more central, I wondered if we should let this church membership thing slide and come back to it later. I was preparing at the time to preach through the book of Hebrews and “happened” to be in chapter 13 when verse 17 leapt off the page: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

Two questions occurred to me. First, if there is no biblical requirement to belong a local church, then which leaders should an individual Christian obey and submit to? Second, and more personally, who will I as a pastor give an account for?

These two questions started my search for a biblical understanding of the local church, and they began around the ideas of authority and submission.

Regarding the first question, the Scriptures clearly command Christians to submit to and honor an elder body (Heb. 13:171 Tim. 5:17). If there is no understanding of local church membership, then who are we to submit to and obey? Is it anyone with the title “elder” from any church? Should you as a Christian obey and submit to those loons at Westboro Baptist? In order to obey Scripture, must you picket soldiers’ funerals, as the pastor of Westboro seems to imply?

Regarding the second question, the Scriptures clearly command an elder body to care for specific people (1 Pet. 5:1-5; also, Acts 20:29-30). Will I as a pastor be held accountable for all the Christians in the Dallas Metroplex? There are many churches in Dallas that I have strong theological and philosophical differences with. Will I give account for what they teach in their small group, how they spend their money, and what they do concerning international missions?

WHAT ABOUT CHURCH DISCIPLINE?

After considering questions of authority and submission, the second issue that came up in my study of the local church was the biblical teaching on church discipline.

You see it in several places, but none so clearly as 1 Corinthians 5:1-12. In this text Paul confronts the church in Corinth for approving of a man walking in blatant, unrepentant sexual immorality. The Corinthians are celebrating this as God’s grace, but Paul warns them that this type of wickedness shouldn’t make them boast, but rather mourn. He calls them arrogant and tells them to remove this man for the destruction of his flesh and the hopeful salvation of his soul. In verses 11-12, he pulls no punches: “But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge?”

It has been my sad experience that very few churches still practice church discipline, but that’s another article for another day. My question out of this text is simple: How can you kick someone “out” if there isn’t an “in”? If there is no local commitment to a covenant community of faith, then how do you remove someone from that community of faith? Church discipline won’t work if local church membership doesn’t exist.

LOTS OF OTHER EVIDENCE FOR MEMBERSHIP

There are other evidences to support local church membership in the Scriptures.

We see in Acts 2:37-47 that there is a numerical record of those who have professed Christ and been filled with the Holy Spirit (v. 41) and an acknowledgement that the church was tracking the growth (v. 47).

In Acts 6:1-6, we see elections take place in order to address a specific problem and accusation.

In Romans 16:1-16, we see what appears to be an awareness of who is a church member.

In 1 Timothy 5:3-16, we see a clear teaching on how to handle widows in the church and in verses 9-13 we read this:

Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work. But refuse to enroll younger widows, for when their passions draw them away from Christ, they desire to marry and so incur condemnation for having abandoned their former faith. Besides that, they learn to be idlers, going about from house to house, and not only idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not.

In this text we see criteria for who would or would not qualify for Ephesus’s widow care program. The local church in Ephesus is organized, and they are working out a plan.

We could go on and on here, asking questions about how we could be obedient to the commands of God in 1 Corinthians 12 or Romans 12 if we aren’t connected to a local covenant community of faith. But to unpack all the possible texts would require longer than I have for this article.

GOD’S PLAN IS THAT WE WOULD BELONG TO LOCAL CHURCHES

When you begin to look at these texts it becomes clear that God’s plan for his church is that we would belong to a local covenant community of faith. This is for our own protection and maturation, and for the good of others.

If you view church as some sort of ecclesiological buffet, then you severely limit the likelihood of your growing into maturity. Growth into godliness can hurt. For instance, as I interact with others in my own local body, my own slothfulness in zeal is exposed, as is my lack of patience, my prayerlessness, and my hesitancy to associate with the lowly (Rom. 12:11-16). Yet this interaction also gives me the opportunity to be lovingly confronted by brothers and sisters who are in the trenches with me, as well as a safe place to confess and repent.  But when church is just a place you attend without ever joining, like an ecclesiological buffet, you just might consider whether you’re always leaving whenever your heart begins to be exposed by the Spirit, and the real work is beginning to happen.

What’s the bottom line? Local church membership is a question of biblical obedience, not personal preference.

Matt Chandler is the lead pastor of the Village Church in the Dallas, Texas area.

May/June2011
© 9Marks

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The Testimony of Keith Clerihue

Keith, my dear brother, in now basking in the glorious presence of his heavenly father. My heart aches as I am grieving his absence. But I am celebrating his entrance into eternal joy. I will miss him deeply, but he gave me the greatest conceivable gift; his confession assures me that I will see him again.

A few years ago I met a brilliant, quick-witted man named Keith Clerihue. We were on staff at the same Church in the Denver metro area and his office was down the hall from mine. He is not a man of imposing physical stature, in fact when I met him I recall noting how svelte he was. In a few short months he became my friend and I grew to love him as a brother. I learned a lot about him; the svelte guy is in fact a big man. I learned that he loves his wife. He publicly celebrates and affirms Lori at every given opportunity. He is a great father to two sons. Kip and Bode both look and dress like their dad. His influence on them is undeniable. He has an artistic eye. As a photographer he is uniquely capable of appreciating textures, colors, and design. I am jealous of this gift. In fact, he once teased me for hanging the pictures in my office “…too high for the average human to see.” He is hilarious!!! He makes me laugh every time I see him. He has a certain prophetic tendency that allows him to readily recognize the upside of an experience. This is just one more of his qualities that I wish we shared. He is a good man. I do not say that quickly nor flippantly. Keith Clerihue is a good, flawed, Christ-Loving man. He has surrendered himself to the call of discipleship and his life reflects his surrender.

There was an occasion in which Keith decided to tell me his story. He and I sat in his office on opposite sides of his desk and we had a conversation about who he is. In this conversation I learned that Lori is not his first wife. His first wife succumbed to Cancer a few years before I met him. This insight gave context to his prophetic tendency. In spite of this experience he still displays joy and expects great things from God. As I am processing what he has just told me he hits me with more insight. He is himself a Cancer survivor. He told me the story of his painful recovery and how Lori custom made intensely rich milkshakes for him to put some meat on his bones. He showed me photos of a Keith Clerihue who was even more svelte than the one sitting before me. It was a lot for me to take in, but he did not miss the opportunity to emphasize the virtue of such a testimony. He has, by way of experience and biblical comprehension, a finely honed theology of suffering. He is able to see God in the trial and in a manner that still overwhelms me he is able to “count it all joy” (James 1:2).

Since we had that conversation Keith has continued to war with Cancer’s attack on his body. He has been diagnosed for a third time. And he has seen fit to use this moment to preach the most courageous message I have ever heard. He knows that his faith in the midst of this trial will produce steadfastness. And he knows that this steadfastness will result in his wholeness; completion. “He will be lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4). I’m not saying that he is enduring this trial because he is a good man. Instead I am telling you that he is a good man because this trial, along with many others, has honed him into the surrendered disciple that you see in the video below. God threw his “curveball,” and then God rejoiced because Keith stayed in the batters box and perfectly timed the swing of his bat.

Invest 4 ½ minutes of your life to watch this video. Click the “Curveball” link and be blessed by the testimony of God’s man. Thanks for publishing your story Keith.

“Curveball” – A Small Piece of Keith’s Story

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What are we doing? (The Four Questions Series)

In our last blog post we visited four questions that we wanted to spend some time unpacking.  We asked,

1) What are we doing? (The Mission)
2) Why are we doing it? (The Values)
3) How are we going to get it done? (The Strategies)
4) When do we have a win? (The Measure)

We set out to answer these questions in a manner that would clearly communicate who we are as a church.  Understanding the answer to the first question is essential if we are going to have a means of evaluating whether or not we are honoring God’s calling and sticking to our unique mission.  What are we doing?  Simply stated, we are making God famous throughout the world.

In 2007 I sat down with my friend Derrick Kelsey and I presented him with a list of eight core values that I believe a church should affirm and celebrate.  He promptly pointed out that many of them overlap and over the course of three years we managed to get the list down to five.  The first value on the list affirmed that God is Supreme in all things and we derived this value from passages such as Romans 11:36, “For from him and through him and to him are all things.  To him be glory forever.”  This value received most of our attention and I still recall the conversation in which Kelsey and I demoted the other four values as we realized that God’s supremacy was a thread that held all of our hopes together.  We did not have five core values; we only had one.  God is supreme in all things.  And our goal is to publish his supremacy.

We use the word “supreme” in reference to his throne and status.  He is King and, therefore, always in the role of preeminence; he is never subordinate.  We carefully included the phrase “all things” to emphasize the fact that there are no exceptions.  Paul’s language in Romans 11:36 presents God as the source (“from him”), means (“through him”), and end (“to him”) of all things.  Everything exists for his name’s sake.[1]  For the sake of contextualizing Paul’s language we landed on a summarizing phrase, “We exist for the sake of making God famous!”   Paul’s use of the word “glory” (dóxa) in Romans 11:36 is actually an act of emphasizing the words of the previous sentence.  Dóxa presumes the ideas of weight and radiance (2nd Cor. 4:17).  God’s presence in the world should be delightfully heavy and brilliant to behold.  He cannot be invisible.  His existence is both undeniable and cause for rejoicing.  Dóxa is also used in reference to one’s reputation (2nd Cor. 4:17).  God created the world as a means of bringing grand repute to himself!  These ideas give us our mission.  We strive to promote God’s glorious reputation.  We desire to make his name heavy and radiant.  We exist to make him famous![2]

You may be asking, “But isn’t God already famous?”  We believe this is a reasonable question.  And we concede the fact that many people are aware of God’s existence.[3]  But Dóxa fame does not simply make the world aware of his existence.  It reorients the world.  All of creation finds meaning in the fact that God exist!  His fame does not merely reference how many people know of him.  It also speaks to how they respond once they know him.  When they see him in all his glory, do they orient their lives to him?  Do they surrender to him as Lord?  Do they live the life of the disciple and see him as supreme in all things?  Our goal, by God’s grace, it to nurture this kind of fame on God’s behalf.  We do not desire that people would merely know of him.  Our passion is that people would know him intimately and that this intimacy would permeate the culture, reorient lives toward God, and cause the world to joyfully surrendering to him.  We desire that the world would celebrate him over all things.  David expressed a passion for what we are doing when he said,

I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever.  Every day I will bless you and praise your name forever and ever.  Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable. One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts. On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate. They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds, and I will declare your greatness. They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.  (Psalm 145:1-7 ESV)

Brandon Washington
The Embassy Church
…making God famous throughout the world.
www.theembassy.org

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[1] Paul made this point again in Colossians 1:15, “…all things were created through him and for him.”

[2] I am fully aware of the fact that I am being repetitious.  It is intentional.

[3] In fact, we would assert that EVERYONE is aware of God’s existence (Romans 1:18-32).   Anyone that denies his existence is trying to convince the heart of that which it cannot sincerely believe (Psalm 14:1).

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Why do we do what we do? (The Four Questions)

I’m sure that many of you are familiar with the anecdotal tale of a young bride who was preparing her first family dinner.  As she was about to put a large roast into the oven to begin baking, her mother stopped her and said “You have to cut three inches off the roast before you bake it.”  Puzzled, the daughter asked her mother “Why?”  “Because that’s the way my mother taught me to do it, and she always makes the best roast lamb” said the mother.  Still puzzled, the daughter went to find her grandmother.  “Nana,” she asked, “Mom says you have to cut three inches off of the roast before putting it in the oven to bake.  Why?”  “Well dear, when I was a new bride and I baked my first roast lamb for dinner the lamb was eighteen inches long.  The largest roasting pan I had was fifteen inches long, so I had to cut three inches off of the lamb to make it fit the pan.”  The bride realized that her mother has been unnecessarily discarding three inches from of every roast she has ever cooked because she had never thought to ask, “Why?”

When was the last time you stepped back and took a good look at your daily routine and asked, “Why do we do this?”  Recently, I was confronted with this opportunity while having a conversation with a fellow church planter.  He said, “You guys seem to be intentionally stifling your numeric growth.  How do you intend to pay bills and gather volunteers?”  Essentially, he was reviewing a list of our behaviors and asking, “Why do you do that?”  It is an excellent question.  And we were most pleased to answer him.

While we had never identified our approach as an “intentional stifling” of growth,[1] we do know what he is referring to.  We prefer to identify it as an intentional approach to healthy growth.  We are warring against the revolving front door that results in many people coming and going without being engaged for the sake of discipleship.  If discipleship is our goal for the future, then it must dictate today’s structure and practices.  If we are going to thrive we must have leaders in place who fully affirm the vision and have a heart for making disciples.

Typically, the objective of a new church is to gather as many people as possible for the sake of covering the volunteer and financial needs.  Marketing tactics (e.g. mass mailers and events) are standard operating procedure during the early days of a church plant and it seemed odd to our fellow church planter that we had chosen to deemphasize these practices.  We should be clear on one notable point — we are by no means critical of marketing.  In fact, we will be taking advantage of some of these practices this fall. [2]  Also, we fully appreciate the reasoning behind his question; we are experientially aware of the need for volunteers and finances.  But if discipleship is our priority, then it seems shortsighted to allow these “needs” (please note our use of quotation marks) to drive our mission.  We had two concerns that influenced the manner in which we are approaching our church model:

1)    We have concluded that it is necessary to have a strong representation of leaders in place prior to a mass influx of people.  These leaders are essential in that they are arbiters of The Embassy Church’s language and culture.  When new people come, they will meet people that already understand the mission and our desired impact on the city for the sake of the gospel.
2)    While we do not dismiss the legitimacy of “attractional” actions by the church, our DNA calls us to prioritize the “missional” mandate of Matthew 28:18-20.  In other words, it is more important to us to have Embassadors that “Go…and make disciples…” instead of merely inviting them to “church.”  Again, we recognize the legitimacy of inviting people to the worship gathering.  But we would prefer they be invited as the guests of missional disciple-makers who are living with Gospel intentionality.

With these two points in mind we decided that we should dedicate our first twelve months to the finding, equipping, and launching of missional leaders.  God has already affirmed this decision by bringing many leaders to The Embassy Church who have hearts for the city and resonate with our vision.[3]  But one thing became very clear to us; if we intend for the vision to be contagious we must word it in a concise, memorable, and clear manner.[4]  For us, this boiled the mission down to the four questions that every Embassador should be able to answer. [5]

1)    What are we doing?  (The Mission)
2)    Why are we doing it?  (The Values)
3)    How are we going to get it done?  (The Strategies)
4)    When do we have a win?  (The Measure)

If you know the answers to these four questions and see the vision picture that they are framing you will know all that there is to know about The Embassy Church.  More importantly, you will see the results of us asking, “Why do we do what we do?”  We will cheat and give you the answers the four questions now.

1) WHAT ARE WE DOING?
We are making God famous throughout the world.

2) WHY ARE WE DOING IT?
He is uniquely worthy of such attention.  All things were created and designed to make him famous.

3) HOW ARE WE DOING IT?
Missional Communities
Worship Gatherings
“Sacred Space”

4) WHEN DO WE WIN? (What is our measure of success?)
We win every time the number of disciple-makers increases.

We will unpack the answers to each of these questions over the next few weeks of our blog series.  We would love to see this initiate a conversation among our readers for the sake of clarity on who we are and what we are about.  Post any comments and questions below and let’s discuss what it means to make God famous throughout the world.

Brandon Washington
The Embassy Church
…making God famous throughout the world.
www.theembassy.org

______________________________

[1] We were concerned that we were growing too fast.  I guess its all a matter of perspective.

[2] Social networking is the “Areopagus” (Acts 17:16-34) of our day.  The call to be a missionary and contextualize compels us to redeem this means of engaging.

[3] There has been such an influx of leaders that we will be launching six Missional Communities this summer and will have as many as ten by the end of the year.  If you have never heard of a missional community, stay tuned as we will be discussing them in week four of this blog series.  If you can’t wait you can watch Pastor Jeff Vandertelt discuss them hear: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lc4tsw3kCok

[4] Will Mancini, Church Unique, (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2008)

[5] Mancini refers to these four points as: 1) Mission, 2) Values, 3) Strategies, and 4) Measures.  But we prefer the 4-questions format, which we inherited from Pastor Brett Crimmel of Forefront Church.

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A Theology of Suffering – The Testimony of Keith Clerihue

A few years ago I met a brilliant, quick-witted man named Keith Clerihue. We were on staff at the same Church in the Denver metro area and his office was down the hall from mine. He is not a man of imposing physical stature, in fact when I met him I recall noting how svelte he was. In a few short months he became my friend and I grew to love him as a brother. I learned a lot about him; the svelte guy is in fact a big man. I learned that he loves his wife. He publicly celebrates and affirms Lori at every given opportunity. He is a great father to two sons. Kip and Bode both look and dress like their dad. His influence on them is undeniable. He has an artistic eye. As a photographer he is uniquely capable of appreciating textures, colors, and design. I am jealous of this gift. In fact, he once teased me for hanging the pictures in my office “…too high for the average human to see.” He is hilarious!!! He makes me laugh every time I see him. He has a certain prophetic tendency that allows him to readily recognize the upside of an experience. This is just one more of his qualities that I wish we shared. He is a good man. I do not say that quickly nor flippantly. Keith Clerihue is a good, flawed, Christ-Loving man. He has surrendered himself to the call of discipleship and his life reflects his surrender.

There was an occasion in which Keith decided to tell me his story. He and I sat in his office on opposite sides of his desk and we had a conversation about who he is. In this conversation I learned that Lori is not his first wife. His first wife succumbed to Cancer a few years before I met him. This insight gave context to his prophetic tendency. In spite of this experience he still displays joy and expects great things from God. As I am processing what he has just told me he hits me with more insight. He is himself a Cancer survivor. He told me the story of his painful recovery and how Lori custom made intensely rich milkshakes for him to put some meat on his bones. He showed me photos of a Keith Clerihue who was even more svelte than the one sitting before me. It was a lot for me to take in, but he did not miss the opportunity to emphasize the virtue of such a testimony. He has, by way of experience and biblical comprehension, a finely honed theology of suffering. He is able to see God in the trial and in a manner that still overwhelms me he is able to “count it all joy” (James 1:2).

Since we had that conversation Keith has continued to war with Cancer’s attack on his body. He has been diagnosed for a third time. And he has seen fit to use this moment to preach the most courageous message I have ever heard. He knows that his faith in the midst of this trial will produce steadfastness. And he knows that this steadfastness will result in his wholeness; completion. “He will be lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4). I’m not saying that he is enduring this trial because he is a good man. Instead I am telling you that he is a good man because this trial, along with many others, has honed him into the surrendered disciple that you see in the video below. God threw his “curveball,” and then God rejoiced because Keith stayed in the batters box and perfectly timed the swing of his bat.

Invest 4 ½ minutes of your life to watch this video. Click the “Curveball” link and be blessed by the testimony of God’s man. Thanks for publishing your story Keith.

“Curveball” – A Small Piece of Keith’s Story

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The greatest sermon I have ever heard

About fifteen years ago a came across a sermon by Dr. John Piper entitled, “Doing Missions When Dying Is Gain.”  Obviously the title was an attention getter so I set time aside and listened to it.  I had no idea how much it would influence my life.  It not only gave me clarity in regards to missions, it also made me think about suffering and calling.  It is, bar none, the single greatest sermon I have ever heard and I still reference it to this day.

Here’s the link; give it a listen.

http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/conference-messages/doing-missions-when-dying-is-gain

Brandon

Striving toward Kingdom Community and Discipleship,
www.theembassy.org

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What difference does the gospel make?

On April 1st 2012 we launched the weekly worship gatherings of The Embassy Church. We are missionaries to the Denver metro area and we have started by engaging the communities that fall within a 5-mile radius of City Park. As missionaries we exegete the community and its residence; we want and need to know who they are and what they see when they look at the world around them. We must know this so we can know how to give them a Gospel saturated view of the world. What would it look like if the Gospel of Christ permeated this community? How would they be impacted if a Kingdom agenda were on full display here? How would their lives be affected if God were famous in this city?

Accepting the Reality

These questions struck me to my core when one of our Embassy team members made me aware of a young man that had been murdered near a High School on Denver’s “East Side.” The school is less than two miles from my home and he invited me to attend a vigil that was intended to minister to the hurts of the community. I accepted his invitation and intentionally disappeared into the crowd. I paid close attention to the countenance of those in attendance. IT WAS HEART WRENCHING! As I looked around I found myself struggling with the look of acceptance on the faces of children. The reality of a mother grieving the loss of her son is becoming routine for them. If there is no change they will grow accustomed to the heartache that this reality triggers. There was a little girl standing near the grieving family and she so reminded me of my own daughter that I am certain that I will never forget her. She was the only child that I witnessed crying uncontrollably. I stared at her for moments on end and it dawned on me that she is in the early stages of accepting the reality. She had not become hardened and this experience was still a shock to her young spirit. Leaders from the community stepped to a megaphone and they assured this little girl and the crowd around her that it does not have to be this way and we can graduate from such a violent assault against the community. I am not a pessimist. I wholeheartedly agree with them; it does NOT have to be this way! There can be change! But I left the vigil unsettled because many of the grievers do not know how this change can come about.

The Blessing of Hopelessness

I see that little girl’s face all over my community now. More to the point, I see the hopelessness that she now represents for me. Often when I discuss what it means to restore this community I get looks of futility. But therein lies the blessing. They have legitimately accepted the fact that they cannot change the circumstances. And I want to state emphatically that they are correct when they assume that they are powerless to do anything! Man’s unilateral attempt at restoration is a cheap Band-Aid at best! In light of this, our hopelessness is a virtue. Our hopelessness paves the way for surrender. Our surrender is the foundation upon which the Gospel is built. The Gospel is the God ordained means of restoring a community…and a city…and a state…and a country…and the world (John 3:16)!

Idolizing the Byproduct

When I say “Gospel” please do not find yourself bound by the bondage of church traditions that have pigeonholed such a great word. We have so demoted the Gospel that now it is merely the means by which we can avoid hell. This is quintessential pride on man’s part. We made ourselves the center of God’s plan. This is the greatest possible display of theological reductionism. Does the Gospel save you from hell? Yes it does. But that is merely a symptom. We are guilty of idolizing the Gospel’s byproduct!!! Jesus did not die so that you could avoid hell; he died so that you may have God! The Gospel of Christ is the means by which God’s restorative grace is going to permeate all of creation. The cosmos relishes in the opportunity to rest at his feet. Christ’s death restores all that is broken and it brings all things back to him. God is the center of the plan.

The Commission of the Hopeless

For me, the most baffling part of this is found in the fact that God has decided to use hopeless men and women to be the vessels of this Gospel. In 2nd Corinthians 5:20 Paul reminds us of our office, our need for surrender, and the nature of our message.

1) If you are in Christ you have been ordained to the office of Ambassador. You represent the King! Consequently, your words, actions, and ambitions have meaning. Fear, while very real, is no longer a hinderer because you do not speak for yourself; you speak on behalf of the sovereign sender. As King, Christ is the possessor of “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). And in his peculiar wisdom he has seen fit to place the seal of that authority on you. As you declare the Gospel you can do so with boldness because you speak with an authority that is otherworldly.

2) If you are a disciple of Christ you have committed to surrendering every area of you life to his lordship. This is essential, as he has decided that he is going to make his appeal through you. As a man, I stand hopeless and destitute in the face of the community’s heartache. But this is my greatest strength; it moves me out of God’s way as he put’s himself on display in his city.

3) The church is the commissioned arbiter of the Gospel (Matthew 16:19). And through us he publishes the “message of reconciliation.” By this, Paul is referring to the fact that the Church has a message that “makes things otherwise” (ἀλλάσσω). We do not have to accept things as they are because we are the voices, hands, and feet of the Gospel. And when the Gospel comes to bear on a city fruit is inevitable. Don’t miss that! The Church is the God ordained front runner in matters of restoration. Elected officials, eduators, para-church organizations, and community leaders should, by God’s grace, supplement the impact that we are making; it should not be the other way around. We are the voices of the ‘message of reconciliation.’ As his ambassadors we are licensed to ‘make things otherwise!’

I often think of that little girl and I pray that God will grant me the privilege of seeing her again some day. If so, I will lay on her words that I should have shouted through the crowd on the day of the vigil. I will share with her the Gospel in its entirety. He did not die simply so you could avoid punishment; he died so that you may have Him, your exceeding joy (Psalm 43:4). I will inform her that God, by way of the Cross, has purchased her entrance into his presence. I will inform her of the fact that the Gospel destroys her despair. I will tell her to embrace her hopelessness; enjoy the privilege of surrender. I will ask her to join me as a messenger of reconciliation in our neighborhood. God’s Gospel has purchased the restoration of the community. And through us he will publish this message.

Brandon

Striving toward Kingdom Community and Discipleship,
www.theembassy.org

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The Church that cannot fail

Recently I had a conversation with a dear friend in which he tried his best to convince me that I should NOT plant a church.  He loves me and he knows me well so he came to our conversation with a remarkable grasp of the pertinent statistics and he had clearly systematized his argument.  He pounded the table emphatically as he rehearsed the results of his research.  He even went so far as to prepare a handwritten manuscript from which he read carefully.  I recall three of his nine points because I had heard them before and they were the most memorable:

  • In America, 3500 — 4000 churches close their doors each year.
  • Every month 1,400 pastors leave the ministry due to moral failure or burnout.
  • 10,000 churches in America disappeared in the last five-years.

I must admit that I had to bring myself back into the conversation because I was thrown by the fact that a scholarly statistician sincerely described the fate of churches by using the word “disappeared.”  I have no idea what that means.  It teased the dreamer in me and sent me on a mental rabbit trail that included everything from “The Rapture” to “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”  After a few moments on the trail I came back into the conversation to ask, “Why are you telling me this?”  His response was serious, loving, and passionate.  “Don’t plant a church Brandon.  This is a bad season for such a venture.  The economy has tanked and your family will suffer senselessly.”  His impassioned plea snapped me out of my jovial mood.  Up to this moment I was only partially engaged in the conversation because I was mentally organizing an “all points bulletin” for those churches that have “disappeared.”  Recognizing the need to engage him according to his serious tone I shelved my mental rabbit trail and responded to him appropriately.  I said, “You need to understand what we are dealing with here.  I don’t just WANT to plant a church; I HAVE to plant it.  It is a matter of calling.  The core value, rhythms, and distinctives of The Embassy Church have been placed on my heart.  I love you brother, but to follow your impassioned advice would be an act of rebellion against my God.”

Then the nature of our conversation shifted to a more comfortable point.  He asked, “If you are going to do this, then how do you handle the likelihood of failure?”  My answer was simple, “It will not fail.”  For fear of sounding arrogant I will take this moment to deflect attention to the authoritative originator of this idea.  I sincerely believe that it will not fail because Jesus said, “And I tell you…on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hades shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18).  The passage screams certainty!  When you assess it closely you notice that it becomes even more worthy of celebration.  The three questions that jump out at me are:

1)   Whose church is it?

2)   Who is the builder?

3)   What is his promise regarding the church?

1) The Church belongs to Christ.  I am not erecting a building, starting a legacy, or striving toward my fame.  Instead, it is my hope and prayer that I, along with my Embassy teammates, am being used as a tool in his hands to plant HIS church.  A gathering of people that love, celebrate, adore, and worship Him.  We are Christ-centered because Christ is Christ-centered.  It is our desire to join him in the mission of planting churches that make God famous!  I am his and the church is his.  Now the question we must answer is simple.  If the church belongs to the Living God, then who can take it away?  Hopefully you can now understand how I stumbled over the use of the word “disappeared.”  God’s church is not comprised of buildings and programs.  It is comprised of people that recognize him as supreme in all things.  And those people joyfully strive toward having his image and kingdom permeate all of creation.  They do so by making disciples (Matthew 28:18-20).  Yes, buildings may be closing.  But the gathering of believers that comprise the church cannot and will not “disappear.”

2) Christ is the builder.  The Cross is the epicenter of all that must be done to build the Church.  It gives meaning to words like justification and sanctification.  He died so that we may have him, and he died so that we may live surrendered lives for him.   Because of the cross we have significance and mission.  Our lives can and should reflect this.  As the sacrificial “Lamb of God,” Jesus is the architect, carpenter, engineer, and artist that designs, builds, and ornaments his church.  This all came out of the Cross.  Why is this significant?  By dying on the cross, Jesus has done the heavy lifting.  We are simply the messengers.  We are not the builders of churches; Jesus is!  Which presents a question.  If Jesus is the builder of the Church, then who can stop him?  Don’t waste your time processing the answer.  There is no one that can stop him.  He has no peer; there is no one who can oppose his plan (Isaiah 40:12-31).  Rest assured, God is the builder, so it will most certainly be built.

3) He has promised that the Church will never die.  He assured us that the gates of Hades shall not prevail against her.  Some Bibles translate the word Hades as “Hell.”  But I wholeheartedly affirm the teaching that Hades and Hell are not one and the same.  Hades simply refers to the place of the departed dead.[1]  It is a symbol of death.  Essentially, Jesus is saying that the Church will never be found in death’s abode.  The Church will always be a living, impactful, tool in the hands of Christ.  Christ is the only hope for the redemption of souls.  He is the only means toward healthy schools, homes, marriages, businesses, etc.  And he has chosen to use the Church to accomplish this.  Because the Church is his ordained means of redeeming the world and making himself famous, I rest assured of the fact that she will never die.

This passage is not referring to the local church.  It is referring to the universal church; the body of Christ that is represented all over the world.  So how is it appropriate for me to use it as my confidence that our local body will not fail?  Well, I will be an Embassador (2nd Cor. 5:20) for the rest of my life.  If The Embassy Church implodes, I am still a representative of his Kingdom.  I take joy in the fact that my hope is not found in the existence of a local church.  Instead my hope is found in what he is going to accomplish through His worldwide church.  If our local mission is simply the contextualized version of his worldwide mission, then I have no concerns about failure.  We have not been commissioned to make attenders and fill buildings.  That may fail.  No matter what name is on the sign outside the building, I am charged with making disciples.  And that will not fail!!!

Brandon

Striving toward Kingdom Community and Discipleship,
The Embassadors
www.theembassy.org


[1] Marvin Vincent in his classic work “Word Studies in the New Testament” says, “The classical Hades embraced both good and bad men, though divided into Elysium, the abode of the virtuous, and Tartarus, the abode of the wicked. In these particulars it corresponds substantially with Sheol; both the godly and the wicked being represented as gathered into the latter.”

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What is a “Disciple?” What is their core value?

We are in the process of launching a church in the Denver metro area.  The church is called “The Embassy.”  Our first gathering is only weeks away and every moment we become more aware of our heart’s greatest desire.  By God’s grace we strive toward making disciples in the city of Denver.  This desire did not originate with us.  The Universal Church has been commissioned to “Go…and make disciples…” But there is a need to clarify what we mean when we say “disciple.”  The word can seem nebulous and confusing.  It is imperative that we clarify what a disciple is because we are charged with making them.  So let’s present the question to ourselves.

What does The Embassy mean when we say, “disciple?”  What are we called to be and what are we calling people to?  Is there a way of appreciating discipleship that will allow us to know the core value of a disciple?  Our working definition is quite simple,  “A disciple is a person who is progressively growing toward surrendering every area of their life to the lordship of Jesus Christ.”  There are key words that are central to appreciating this definition:

1) Progressively,   2) Growing & Surrendering,   3) Every,   4) Lordship,   5) Jesus

“Progressively”

The word “progressively” highlights the fact that discipleship is not instantaneous.  In fact, it is a never-ending process.  The objective of the disciple is to grow in divine understanding and affection for a God who is immeasurably supreme in all things.  Because of the breadth and depth of God man will never exhaust this growth process.  Therefore, it is a progressive process.  Paul affirmed this when he spoke of the process in a never-ending present tense, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are BEING TRANSFORMED into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2nd Cor. 3:18).  When a believer commits to being a disciple, they are not committing to reaching a finish line.  Instead, they are relishing and savoring the very process of “being transformed…from glory to glory…” for the rest of their lives.

“Growing and Surrendering”

It may be that the words “growing” and “surrendering” represent the facets of discipleship that give us the most trouble.  In western culture we have been taught to celebrate those that are persisters and achievers.  In both the academic and professional worlds we laud these traits as means to success.  If a person is self-reliant and independent, then we qualify them as leaders.  But for the disciple, growth leads to surrender.  As the disciple progressively grows toward God and develops a deeper affection for Him he/she surrenders, which makes for a willing vessel through whom God can act for His glory.  We become God-reliant; dependent on Him.  A disciple is showing growth when daily they turn to God and say, “Today I surrender to you.  Achieve holiness through me.  Glorify yourself in me.”  Again Paul affirms this idea when he says, “…for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13).  For the disciple, God does not cooperate toward holiness.  Instead, He operates alone.  He lives the Godly life through those that surrender themselves to Him.

“Every” and “Lordship”

For the disciple, God is not Lord over most things.  He is lord over EVERYthing.  So in surrendering the disciple holds nothing back.  There is no area of our lives in which he is not the focus.  He is Lord over our finances, children, relationships, homes, cars, jobs, sex lives, etc.  The list is not exhaustible. In a most benedictory manner Paul lauded this point by saying, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever” (Romans 11:36)!  God has no peer in that he is the sole source, means, and end of all creation. Everything exists for his glory!  To grow as a disciple means to see Him in His splendor and surrender every area of your life to His Lordship.

“Jesus Christ”

Discipleship is not unique to Christianity.  Everyone has either intentionally or unwittingly identified a person or idea as lord and in doing so has assumed the role of disciple.  Because of this it is essential for us to be specific when we identify the object of our discipleship.  Jesus is the Lord of whom we speak!  As God he is supreme in all things and worthy of our surrender, “…all things were created BY him and FOR him” (Colossians 1:16).  He is King of kings and the one toward whom the disciple’s heart is focused.  He has all authority in heaven and earth (Matthew 28:18).  He is, by definition, the one and only sovereign Master.

It is God’s objective to have his glory permeate all of creation.  He desires to make Himself famous; to put his glory on full display.  If he is central in our lives then we join him in the fulfillment of this objective.   It is our joyful core value because it is His core value.   Our approach to this is simple; “Go and make disciples.”  Add to the choir of voices that will live for Him and sing his praises.  That is the call of the disciple.  And by “disciple” we mean, “A person who is PROGRESSIVELY GROWING toward SURRENDERING EVERY area of their life to the LORDSHIP of JESUS Christ.

Brandon

Striving toward Kingdom Community and Discipleship,
The Embassadors
www.theembassy.org

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