Disciples or Consumers?

(Bloggers Note: Today, I’m honored to publish a guest post from a high school friend and her husband who pastor Mountainview Community Church in Durango, Colorado. Barry and Ellen Mooney share a love for the Gospel and do great work in its behalf. Ellen and I frequently enjoy Facebook debates over the political topics of the day. :))

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There is a dangerous trend taking root in U.S. churches.  On the surface it appears to innocently communicate the gospel in terms of, “What is the Good News to different people groups?  In reality, it often reduces followers of Jesus to consumers of religious products.  It relies on demographic studies to identify “new markets.”

Success is directly tied to the number of people it moves.  It sometimes claims to be missional while, in fact, it evaluates worldly success.

When Jesus Christ left this earth, He left His followers with one task – to make disciples.

Are we making disciples, as Jesus commanded, or have we, in an effort to reach a new generation or frankly, put people in the pews, created a class of Christian consumers?

Are you a Christian Consumer?

“The consumer gospel combines the appeal for forgiveness with the abdication of any obligation of discipleship.”  – Bill Hull, author of Christlike: The Pursuit of Uncomplicated Obedience

Hull goes on to write, “It emphasizes the confession of sins for salvation. Everything else is off the table – following Christ, a lifelong commitment to discipleship – they are all optional. The idea that the Christian life is one of being a “living sacrifice” is secondary to salvation. This gospel rushes naturally into the waiting arms of self-interest.

Impatience is the most accepted sin in Western culture. We are an impetuous people. This impatience not only is accepted in the church, but is considered a positive quality among church leaders. According to the consumer gospel, everything must be faster and bigger. Impatience is presented as a sign of holy dissatisfaction, which drives the leaders to take church to the next level. Every year must bring net growth with new and exciting programs to keep consumer Christians with short attention spans interested.

The problem with impatience is that it short-circuits the forming of Christ in persons. The consumer mentality does not foster a life of submission and humility. It is a world where activity, including church, orbits around the individual. The mania for success trains people to think in terms of programs and gives them a short-term view of personal development. They begin to think, if I can get a handle on this character flaw of uncontrolled anger in the next two months, then it will be taken care of. If it doesn’t work, then I need to find a better teacher, church, curriculum, husband, wife, and workplace.  In other words, Change my circumstances, change me.

These churches promise members, “If you use our products, you will be happy, healthy, and powerful.” The Christian message is the anti-thesis of that, but I am afraid it has largely succumbed to the enchanting message of the consumer gospel.”

As a couple, we have worked for churches, ministries and have planted churches since 1999.  We have both worked for mega-churches (one was healthy and one was not) and the Lord used the horrible experience of seeing Christian consumerism first hand, to make us beg the Lord for the simplicity of making disciples His way.  For some reason, the Lord chose to turn us away from pride, and instead celebrate humility.

It saddens us when we hear pastors ask other pastors, “How many did you win to the Lord last week? Or “Tell us about your church growth?”  Pastors often accept this message because it appeals to the flesh – the desire for self-righteousness.  We love things we can control.  We love things we can point to as evidence of our efforts.

Somewhere in all of this, the real message of the gospel gets lost.  Self-interest drives church programs.  Leaders become pragmatic and end up pushing programs that will bring large numbers.

As a couple, we’ve witnessed firsthand how families, who’ve swallowed Christian consumerism, get upset when their child does not have the requested children’s program to go to while mom and dad “spend quality time” away from the church.  If their children do not get an award for memorizing a Bible verse, sparks fly.  If mom or dad does not have the adult program they want, they begin shopping for a new church.  What they do not understand, is that Mountainview chooses not to cater to selfishness.  Instead, discipleship is key.  It may cost us some people, but God brings who He wants.  We’re not willing to sell Jesus and His message for money or to pacify selfishness.

Choosing Discipleship over Consumerism

Luke 6:40(ESV)
   A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.

Churches must realize that discipleship is not optional.  It is essential.  Any method that does not produce Christ-like disciples, but simply draws crowds is inconsistent with the task that Jesus gave us.  Success is not to be measured in groups of people who consume religious products, but in growing, consistent,  Christ-like behavior.

Barry Mooney is the Lead Pastor at Mountainview Community Church in Durango, Colorado.  Feel free to check out Mountainview’s Facebook  page.

Ellen Mooney – She and Barry enjoy walks in the mountains and loving on their two children, Meg and Patrick.  Ellen is a freelance writer & editor and has written feature articles for EFCA Today magazine.

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Is God “Comprehensible?” – An Interview with A.W. Tozier – Part 1

A.W. Tozier

Q: How do we picture an infinite God in our infinite minds?

A: We learn by using what we already know as a bridge over which we pass to the unknown. It is not possible for the mind to crash suddenly past the familiar into the totally unfamiliar. Even the most vigorous and daring mind is unable to create something out of nothing by a spontaneous act of imagination.

Q: So how does the Bible give us a picture of God?

A: The effort of inspired men to express the ineffable has placed a great strain upon both thought and language in the Holy Scriptures. These being often a revelation of a world above nature, and the minds for which they were written being a part of nature, the writers are compelled to use a great many “like” words to make themselves understood.

When I was a child, this is how I pictured God in my mind, and I must admit my limited imagination still pictures Him this way to a good degree.

Q: What is the role of the Holy Spirit in allowing us to “comprehend” God?

A: When the Spirit would acquaint us with something that lies beyond our field of knowledge, He tells us that this thing is like something we already know, but He is always careful to phrase His description so as to save us from slavish literalism. For example, when the prophet Ezekiel saw heaven opened and he beheld visions of God, he found himself looking at that which he had no language to describe. What he was seeing was wholly different from anything he had ever known before, so he fell back on the language of resemblance. “As for the likeness of living creatures, their appearance was like burning coals of fire.”

The nearer he approaches the burning throne the less sure his words become: “And above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone: and upon the likeness of the throne was the likeness as the appearance of a man above upon it. And I saw as the color of amber, the appearance of fire round about within it … this was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.” One gathers that the whole scene is very real, but entirely alien to anything men know on earth.

Is this how we are to picture God?

Q: But if we as men are made in God’s “image,” can’t we comprehend that He is like us, only greater?

A: When the Scripture states that man was made in the image of God, we dare not add to that statement an idea from our own head and make it mean “in the exact image.” ‘To do so is to make man a replica of God, and that is to lose the unicity of God and end with no God at all. It is to break down the wall, infinitely high, that separates that-which-is-God from that-which-is-not God. To think of creature and Creator as alike in their essential being is to rob God of most of his attributes and reduce Him to the status of a creature.It is for instance, to rob Him of His infinitude: there cannot be two unlimited substances in the universe. That would be to take away his sovereignty: there cannot be two absolutely free beings in the universe for sooner or later two completely free wills must collide.

Or is this how we are to picture God?

When we try to imagine what God is like we must of necessity use that-which-is-not-God as the raw material for our minds to work on; hence whatever we visualize God to be, He is not, for we have constructed our image out of that which He has made, and what He has made, is not of God. If we insist upon trying to imagine Him, we end with an idol, made not with hands, but with thoughts; and an idol of the mind is as offensive to God as an idol of the hands.

Q: But the question of “what God is like” is the one thing so many of us want to know. What are we do do?

A: The yearning to know what cannot be known, to comprehend the incomprensible, to touch and taste the unapproachable, arises from the image of God in the nature of man. Deep calleth unto deep, and though polluted and landlocked by the mighty disaster theologians call the Fall, the soul senses its origin and longs to return to its Source. How can this be realized?

I believe Tozier would most conform to this “image” of God…

The answer of the Bible is simply “through Jesus Christ our Lord.” In Christ and by Christ, God effects complete self-disclosure, although He shows Himself not to reason but to faith and love. Faith is an organ of knowledge, and love an organ of experience. god came to us in the incarnation; in atonement He reconciled us to Himself, and by faith and love we enter and lay hold on Him.

(Blogger’s Note: These excerpts come from A.W. Tozier’s “The Knowledge of the Holy.” Tozier, (1897-1963) was a popular evangelical author and minister. The author of more than 30 books, he has been called one of the most influential American evangelists of the 20th Century.)

What do Jesus, Sarah Palin and Al Sharpton Have in Common?

Not that much that I can see, honestly. But they all get a lot of “hits.”

I love writing. And almost as much as I love writing, I love the metrical study of writing and what gets people’s attention. The world of communication now moves with lightning speed, and by virtue of sheer volume, it takes something special to get readers to stop and read – something that tugs at their heartstrings.

It’s funny I’ve noticed in recent months that a photo post of my dog often generates more “likes” and responses than almost any other thing I can post on Facebook. It’s a humbling thing for someone who considers himself a journalist.

Yesterday, I took a daylong fast from coffee and a few other personal indulgences… and I had a bad back ache. The ensuing bad mood gave me the perfect excuse to make a quick “airing of grievances” on FB.

The post was simple. Three things I don’t like on my wall:

  • People telling me I don’t love Jesus if I don’t “repost” their post about how much they love Jesus.

Anything about Sarah Palin. I don’t care for Sarah Palin.

Inciteful posts about the Trayvon Martin case used by a number of “journalists” to promote racial conflict for the advancement of their personal agendas.

Interestingly, dozens of “likes” and comments poured in through the day and throughout the night. And they came from people across the spectrum of religious and political beliefs.

Let’s take these one at a time:

  • I’m going to be bluntly candid about this. Jesus loves you. He loves you with as much love as there is in the universe.  But He doesn’t give a crap about your professed love for Him on Facebook. If it makes you feel good, so be it. I just don’t think it’s the depth of commitment for which He’s looking. Offer a kind word to someone who’s down, or help a neighbor in need. That’s the ticket.
  • I don’t blame Sarah Palin for putting herself in a position to make money. Flukes happen, and she’s the product of one of the greatest political flukes in modern-day. I do, however, take a stand against  FOX News for using her as a ratings enhancer, and today, NBC’s Today Show for allowing her to co-host with Matt Lauer, a fine journalist. It’s Today’s response to Katie Couric‘s weeklong guest host stint on Good Morning America. Does Sarah Palin really have that much of value to say to us? I’ve yet to see it. Her intellectual stimulation fails to reach me. But she’s a great performer. I’ll give her that. Nothing more.

  • Finally, Trayvon Martin. Maybe the most irresponsible journalistic hype since Nancy Grace adopted the Casey Anthony cause. We now have Al Sharpton leading America’s case against the injustice done against Trayvon Martin … and not that it wasn’t a major injustice. But it’s no longer about Martin. It’s about Sharpton and self promotion and elevating his status as a journalist/activist (the two of which just don’t jive). Shame on you MSNBC. You’re better than that. And out of the woodwork comes Geraldo Rivera. Give it up Geraldo – the original self-promoting journalist. Go home.

David Brinkley, Peter Jennings, Andy Rooney and Tim Russert – I miss  you guys. But you wouldn’t want to see what this has become, anyway.

Now, for a cup of coffee to improve my mood.

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What Would it Look Like if …

… we shattered our categories?

“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.”Abraham Lincoln, President of the United States.

How do we get to the “secret heart” of Christianity? Many are finding it difficult in today’s church.

It’s the battle of two extremes – we are wayward sinners or moral insiders – or we seek one of two journies – the road of moral comformity or the path to self-discovery. Is there room for any of us who may find ourselves somewhere between the two extremes without people thinking we’re rebellious troublemakers?

The fact is, it’s easy to alienate ourselves from God by going either way for too long. Proof can be found in the well-known story of the prodigal son, in which most readers of the Word focus on the wayward son. That side of the story is easy enough. But what about the older son, the one who obeyed the rules, the one who conformed, and yet refused to attend the grand celebration hosted by their father upon the younger son’s glorious return?

The two extremes … where is the middle ground, and if there is one, is it the right place from where the Holy  Spirit wishes us to operate?

Isn’t it interesting in so many Bible stories that the people who were most intrigued by Jesus were the ones who were estranged from religion, as opposed to those who were immersed in doctrine and dogma? The rule followers tried to trick Jesus into a corner. Who is this man, they wondered?

I am one of those who finds myself in the middle – probably further to the right side of self -discovery than rule follower, but yet fascinated by what God’s Word speaks to me each day. In this position, it’s easy to become an outcast. Church friends wonder what happened to you. Why are you rebelling? What’s wrong with you? Do you still know Jesus?

Maybe it rings true with you.

Actually, I feel pretty good. I feel freedom. The sun and stars look different to me now. The North Star visible each night from my back yard reminds me that I do have a fixed point of light and a direction. I’m learning, discovering, hearing.

If it does ring true with you, then I believe we are not alone. I believe we are in the midst of the winds of change. God appears to be changing the conversation He is having with His church. Yes, God can actually “change” the conversation if He so chooses.

Less than a year ago, leaders from a dozen megachurches across the country came together for: “Exponential 2011: On the Verge Conference.” The church leadership in the conference represented some 80,000 members.

The church leaders, you see, were at a high level of satisfaction with their “attractional” strategies. And why not? They had grown exponentially. They were in “high cotton.”

But somewhere along the way, the “missional” aspect of service was lost. Too many people, too many programs and services, too much budget, too many decisions and too much baggage.

They had become “missionless.”

An interesting observation/prediction by two church strategists who helped facilitate the meeting is this: The prevailing church growth approach (or market strategy, if you will) will have appeal to about 40% of the U.S. population over the next 10 years.

So if the strategy continues to dominate, where does that leave the other 175,000,000 or so of us who aren’t drawn to that approach?

What if church looked not so much like a building, but a movement?

What if church looked apostolic rather than institutional?

What would it look like if we created demand, rather than competed for it?

What if we were On the Verge of something?

What if…

(Blogger’s note: Many of the ideas, language and concepts posted in this blog come from two well-written and thoughtful books: On the  Verge by Alan Hirsch & Dave Ferguson; and The Prodigal  God by Timothy Keller.)

You Can’t Handle the Truth!

An exchange from a great scene in the movie: ” A Few Good Men.”

Judge Randolph: *Consider yourself in Contempt!*
Kaffee: *Colonel Jessep, did you order the Code Red?*
Judge Randolph: You *don’t* have to answer that question!
Col. Jessep: I’ll answer the question!
[to Kaffee]
Col. Jessep: You want answers?
Kaffee: I think I’m entitled to.
Col. Jessep: *You want answers?*
Kaffee: *I want the truth!*
Col. Jessep: *You can’t handle the truth!*

It was one of the few mornings when I woke up not knowing exactly what I would post today.

Then I reflected on my day yesterday. I had the opportunity to have lunch with the pastor of a local church and dinner with a man from the church I attend most regularly.

It was great. We met. We talked. We shared.

And it caused me to reflect on the last year and the great opportunities I’ve had to come across “a few good men” in my life.

There are some wise men from my church whose widsom and sage advice I value. It’s a privilege just to watch them and be in their presence.

There are some great men in my workplace who are among the best I’ve ever come across. They are brilliant, visionary, entrepreneural, real and deep. It is my honor to work with these men. And if you read this blog, you know who you are.

There’s a guy who was my best friend in high school and for a period of 20 years or so we lost touch. We’ve recently been reunited and it’s as if time never passed. He’s the kind of man who would cut out his heart for me if I needed it and he knows I would do the same for him. More than a brother, I consider this man to be.

Through sheer circumstance arranged by God, I was recently reunited with my junior high basketball coach – a man who helped shape a young 14-year-old in ways that would last forever. We now stay in regular contact and have an upcoming adventure together that I know will make more memories that will last a lifetime.

All these men are the type that can handle the truth. I can share with them. I can be transparent with them. I can be MYSELF with them and they pass no judgment.

There was a time in my life when I shut myself off from others for reasons that are too complex to explain. But never again.

I know have a few good men in my life. Thank you Jesus.

The Best Business Advice I Ever Got?

When approaching a new business venture don't bite off more than you can chew. Take things one small bite at a time.

I’ve been blessed with a diverse career in journalism, publishing, fundraising, marketing and branding and even owned a small business for a period of time.

In the process there have been some magnificent opportunities to be around some great men who were willing to impart wisdom and share their secrets to success. Oftentimes I think a certain fear wells up in us to approach an older, more seasoned veteran of the trade, but my experience has been when I am well prepared, passionate and curious for helpful knowledge some of the greatest businessmen in my area were more than willing to give me a block on their busy schedule … and it has been invaluable to me, whether I took their advice or not because lessons have been learned.

It all got me to thinking about the realm of advice I’d been given, and so I wanted to share a few tidbits of that wisdom and then offer a few personal observations. Here are the Dirty Dozen I can recall:

1. YOU’LL NEVER GET ANYWHERE WITHOUT THE SIGNIFICANT HELP OF SOMEONE ELSE. When I was going into business for myself I sought out some self-made men. Two of them (who happened to be great friends) but were never partners in business told me this identical thing. And I believe it to be true. I can think of no significant thing I’ve ever done when someone didn’t lend me a hand. And I don’t mean a staff or a personal aide. I’m talking about someone more successful that you or me who would help make a connection, or send a deal your way or buy something from you when they really didn’t need it just because. They did it for me, and I certainly hope to do it for others one day.

2. THE ONLY RULE IS THAT THERE ARE NO RULES. Well, I struggle with this one. I have a natural bent toward rule breaking and almost despise rules and doctrine. It was a great newspaper publisher who shared this with me, and in journalism, for the most part, you can get by with it. There’s a fine balance between being really good to employes and allowing them to take advantage of you. In my brief stint as an independent business owner, there were no established guidelines for vacation or time in and time out. Just do your job. Maybe that’s why it went down the tubes. On the other hand, the church I attend most regularly operates from a business model guided by a “constitution and bylaws” which I find disturbing in that particular venue. Seems to me the guidelines are already there in the best-selling book in the history of the world, but I digress.

3. DON’T BURN BRIDGES. It’s a good rule. Things always come back around. I’ve been there, done that. Sometimes, it sure feels good though. Ninety-five percent of the time, burning a bridge is wrong.

4. THINK BEFORE YOU SPEAK. I once worked for a man who had previously served as an agricultural liaison to President Clinton. It was a cush political job, but just because he was the President’s buddy, he carried a pretty big stick. He told me the first few times he walked into an Ag Cabinet meeting, he just sat in the back of the room, wearing a special lanyard and never said a word. They had no idea who he was or what he was doing there, but they were scared to death of him.

5. YOU CAN’T SPEND WHAT YOU DON’T HAVE. I think it’s baloney. Anyone with a vision and drive and passion can find the money for whatever they want to undertake.

6. A PART OF SOMETHING IS BETTER THAN ALL OF NOTHING. I currently work for a local company that employs only around 30 people. Three entrepreneurs founded the company and have developed strategic partnerships all over the world. With those partnerships they prove that pennies multiplied by volumes in the millions adds up to real money. Had I understood this lesson years ago, I might be wealthy myself. Oh, the humanity.

7. YOU MUST HAVE A VISION. Without a vision, the people perish, and so it is in business. And just as a vision carries you forward, you continue to see ahead. I cannot believe how fast the world is changing every single day.

8. KEEP A CLOSE INNER CIRCLE. Right on. Jesus had the 12, but He also had the three. There is no better scenario than having two or three companions with whom you can share your heart, and who will not judge you, no matter your mistakes. The freedom to be transparent is real freedom.

9. TEST & MEASURE. Almost nobody gets this. I’m amazed at how most business people spend advertising dollars having no idea of the amount of revenue that it directly generates. I’ve been blogging for about two weeks now. One of the great things about WordPress is that the ability to test and measure is at my fingertips. If you regularly analyze your hits, it’s a piece of cake. I can tell you exactly what topics will draw what number of readers and the day AND time of day when they are most likely to read my material. Generally, if my work’s not published by 8 a.m. you can forget it. My posts usually go out around 6 a.m. And this post is a test in itself. It will hit around 1 a.m. CST, so it will be interesting to see what happens this go around.

10. CONNECT. And I don’t mean as in FaceBook or Linked In. Connect with real people you can touch and with whom you can shake hands and look at the pictures on their office wall. My rule of thumb is if you don’t make a connection within the first minute of a one-on-one meeting it’s not gonna happen. This is more art than science, more innate than learned. I once coached a small restaurant owner who had previously worked in sales. She had a great story about how difficult it was to get past a gatekeeper to a potentially huge client. A little behind-the-scenes research showed her the guy liked to play cards. Each week for three weeks she sent him an Ace in a simple envelope. First the Ace of Hearts; next the Ace of Clubs; and then the Ace of Diamonds. The fourth week she cold-called the guy and the secretary gatekeeper said no way. She simply replied, “Tell him the Ace of Spades is here,” and she walked in and closed a huge deal. Beautiful.

11. ANSWER THE PHONE NO LATER THAN THE SECOND RING. Yep.

12. FALL ON THE SWORD. I’ve had countless times when I was accosted by an angry client or co-worker and just let them rant and rave as long as they want while I stay quiet. And my typical response will be, “You know, you’re right and I’m sorry.” It’s amazing how you can disarm someone with an apology whether it’s deserved or not. But who wants the hassle of a fight. Not me.

Mistaken Light

You are a natural seeker of Light. So am I.

Just one part of  God‘s great Design is that we are seekers of light. Our soul needs it; our skin needs it, our bones and eyes need Light.

And it’s a great paradox that sometimes, even though we already have the Light in us (see 2 Corinthians 4:6) that we go out and look for it, oftentimes in the wrong places.

In our daily walk, we seek out the Light. It’s our innate desire for understanding, acceptance, truth and self-identification.

Because of Old Testament prophecy, the people of the early first century were overly zealous in their pursuit of the Light. So hungry were they in their pursuit that they were easily mistaken, especially in the great case of John the Baptist.

Consider some of the most awesome scipture that ever was from the Book of John:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God …In Him was life, and the Life was the Light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

There came a man sent from god, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through Him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light. There was true Light, which coming into the world enlightens EVERY man.” John 1:1-9

Even though the Light is in us, sometimes we have a need for supplemental light, and that’s ok.

Babies born prematurely need the warmth and comfort that incubation light provides for their proper development. Many doctors use phototherapy for the treatment of serious wounds, acne and other skin irritations. I often supplement my Bible reading with the works of great authors such as Barna, Viola, Buford, Idleman and others. They provide supplement to my daily walk.  All this is ok.

Then sometimes, especially as adults, we go looking for supplemental light in all the wrong places. In the search for life’s answers we find ourselves caught up in addictions, wrong relationships, schemes and other things that we believe will “make us happy.” That’s not ok.

You see, the darkness has a trick up it’s sleeve to make you think you can find the light in some bad places.

And as much as I prefer not to talk or write about these things, they are true. There is an enemy out there who wishes you harm and he will do everything he can to see you drawn to mistaken light.

Now I’m not naive enought to believe I’m important enough for the enemy to pursue me on a daily basis. He’s got much bigger fish to fry than me, but reading Frank Peritti’s book “This Present Darkness” a few years ago changed my view forever regarding how the enemy uses his legion of demonic spirits to bring me down. Again, forgive the demonic talk. I don’t like it and don’t go there often, but it is a reality, and here’s the support from God’s own Word:

“No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of Light.” 2 Corinthians 11:14

This is an amazing scripture – pure evidence of God’s magnificent design.

With all the negative influence the enemy can have on a fallen world, when all else fails, he’ll steal God’s method and disguise himself as “Light.”

All the more reason for us to stay in the Word which gives us wisdom, discernment and the power and authority to be the Light ourselves. False light can never penetrate pure light and we are the Light of the Word because Christ lives in us.

It’s going to be a beautiful spring-like day here in Arkansas today. I’m going out to catch some light. Make no mistake about it.