On Millstones and Disconnects, Part 1


Yesterday's post was a sad one. Today's is angry. (I'm trying to run the table on emotions here this week.) So if you're not ready to read a rant today, there are some fine blogs on the right sidebar that might be less incendiary.

Here's the key passage:

For whoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in My name, because you belong to Christ, truly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward. And whoever shall offend one of these little ones who believe in Me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged around his neck and he were cast into the sea. —Mark 9:41-42 MKJV

We have a classic biblical parallelism here:

    1. Come to the aid of a follower of Christ and be blessed for it.
    2. Cause a follower of Christ to stumble and be cursed for it.

It's outrageously simple.

Cerulean Sanctum is a blog about the Church in America. I try to write about issues that affect us Christians (and our churches) here in this country. Because I love the Church, I want more than anything for us to be all we can be, not only as a corporate body of believers but as individuals within that body.

This is why I'm distraught over the sheer number of disconnects between what the Church preaches and how we are to live in society. If we have Ultimate Truth in the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, then we should not shrink from any challenge. The world should be able to look to the Church and have us point to the answers for problems that plague us all. Our apologetic is not contained in mere words, but in a practical outliving of Truth that applies to all realms of life: work, play, family, life, death, and so on.

But that costs something. It's not easy. It can't always be summed up in a Bible verse or a "read this Christian book and you'll be better." Here's a for instance:

    A man receives a call at work that his pregnant wife and unborn child have died after a sudden onset of preeclampsia. They'd been married twelve years and had struggled to conceive. They were ecstatic to find out she was pregnant. This would have been their first child. They've been coming to your church for less than six months.

You want to minister to this man later that day, so you:

    A. Drive over to his house, open up your Bible to Romans 8:28 and have him read it out loud for you.

    B. Drive over to his house, sit down with him and let him weep. Listen to his stories about his wife. After your initial visit, bring him food from time to time. Pray with him after Sunday services. Let him know that he can call you any time, night or day. Send him handwritten notes encouraging him. Invite him to get-togethers with other people at your home. Ask him to sit with you in church. Make sure other people in the church know who he is and what happened to him so they can be an encouragement, too. Ask him what other ways you can help him through this time.

One of those options costs something. And it's not "A". The sad thing is that "A" is what many people get. I'm not here to say the Bible has no place in this man's recovery, just that the way it was mishandled in this case was deserving of a millstone placed around the deliverer's neck—especially since nothing else was offered.

I've lost my patience with "Christian" organizations that tell people how they should live, but offer no help in achieving that goal. They think they're providing a cup of water, but they're deluding themselves. The people who say these things are only offending Christ's little ones. Unplugged/DisconnectedThey deserve a millstone hung around their necks and a permanent dunking in the waters above the Marianas Trench. It's a disconnect of biblical proportions.

The largest disconnects are those that call on the Gospel to intersect culture. I hear American Church leaders preaching that God's way trumps the world's, but then the Christian who hears that message goes out into the real world and runs smack into the disconnect.

A few examples:

    1. The pastor says that, in God's eyes, your age and appearance don't matter. The Lord looks on the heart. But of your church's single women, it's not the young, gorgeous ones sitting at home alone every Saturday night.

    2. The family-oriented parachurch ministry says that the only biblical household is the one where the husband is the primary breadwinner, while mom stays home with the kids. But dad just lost his twenty-year job to offshoring, his field's dried up locally, and because mom didn't keep her work skills fresh after the kids came, they're burning through all their savings while dad spends sixty hours a week job hunting.

    3. Your church teaches a class on parenthood and says that the proof of God's blessing on your life is the number of children you have. But you've had three miscarriages and the last one caused so many problems you had to have a hysterectomy.

The message the Church is speaking attempts to intersect reality and the result is a complete disconnect. And a painful one at that.

The retort to all this is to say, "This is all sour grapes, Dan. You're trying to blame this on God or to say the Scriptures aren't true."

And that would be completely off-base.

What's at fault here is not God or His word. The problem is that God's given the Church a responsibility to go beyond easy answers, but we've chosen the easy answers instead.

 None of the beginning statements above are wrong. Instead, the Church has failed to implement godly solutions to worldly issues, giving those statements an appearance of error. We as a Church have forgotten how to make culture fit a biblical lifestyle. We're still trying to make a biblical lifestyle fit culture—and that doesn't work. Ever.

The world looks at our Christian square pegs and says, "Oh yeah? Well, try to jam that through our round hole!" Instead, Christians should be making the world's finest square holes that will perfectly fit the square pegs. But we're not doing that anymore.

We once did. In this country, Christian ideology once drove culture; now it's the other way around. And sadly, the modern Church is abetting that disaster.

Are we satisfying the thirsty children? Or are we offending them?

More on this to come…

Tags: Service, Caring, Integrity, Praxis, Church, Faith, Christianity, Jesus, God

Warring Evangelicals Make Iron Eyes Cody Cry


I’ve blogged on green topics before (for instance, see this post), so perhaps I’m excluded from commenting on the recent environmental brouhaha as Evangelicals once again savage each other over an issue that neither side understands completely.

Several well-known Christians have signed an initiative asking for greater sensitivity to the issue of global warming. Iron Eyes Cody—The Crying IndianA wide variety of Christian leaders from Jack Hayford and Duane Litfin to Brian McLaren and Robert Yarbrough signed on the dotted line of the Evangelical Climate Coalition (ECC.)

Meanwhile, Chuck Colson, Ted Haggard, and James Dobson have said they don’t share that same feeling. And yet again, another highly vocal group of Christians has been brutally critical of the ECC, basically calling any Christian interest in environmental issues a concession to Gaia worship.

Like so many of these stupid battles—and they are stupid—the brutal misunderstanding, tortured Scriptural citations, and outright mean-spiritedness dishonors the Lord.

Here’s what I don’t get:

1. The harshest critics pull out the Great Commission factor. They act as if it’s impossible to walk and chew gum at the same time. Why is it so impossible to think that Christians can be good stewards of God’s creation AND evangelize at the same time? Why the bogus either/or argument? Whether we’re going door-to-door or just sharing Christ wherever and whenever, we still consume food, gasoline, and other resources. Can’t we think a little bit more about how we do it? Will that somehow negate Matthew 28:19-20? People arguing that we can’t do both are only doing so because they are short-sighted and simply wish to justify their own personal selfishness. And Jesus doesn’t think much of people who think of themselves first.

2. Even if you disagree with the global warming clarion call (and I’m certainly not convinced either way), what is the absolute worst that can come out of Christian leaders asking us to be more sensitive to the issue? We burn through fewer non-renewable resources? We’re more aware of our own personal wastefulness? We live more simply? Are any of those bad aspirations? Do any run counter to God’s word?

3. I don’t understand why some folks ignore the whole of Scripture when it comes to stewardship. The very first charge God gives Man in Genesis is to care for creation, yet some believers act as if that command has been rescinded. If they can point to chapter and verse that negate that charge, I’ll fully concede the point. Simply put: they can’t. Again, our entire lifestyle can be one of stewardship and simple living and those detract not one iota from our greatest purpose.

4. If it’s a matter of witness, what witness do wastrel Christians give the world when they toss trash out the windows of their ICHTHUS-labeled Chevy? Every week I see self-labeled Christians littering. Every week. Without exception. Why? What does that accomplish except to drive people away from the Lord?

5. Unfortunately, we’d rather fight than switch. If it’s all about showing the proper witness, then why not join the Sierra Club or the Audubon Society, befriend unbelievers in those organizations and lead them to Christ? We can witness anywhere, so why not right in the belly of the beast, so to speak? Salt and light—no matter where we are. And I’m not talking about joining environmental organizations just to convert people, but doing so because it’s the right thing to do.

6. Is there a truckload of weird New Age garbage wrapped up in environmentalism? Absolutely! You’d had to have sleepwalked through the last forty years to have missed that one. But as we all know, the Enemy tries to counterfeit or corrupt everything that God values. So why the shock on our faces that the Enemy’s got a grip on a lot of folks in the environmental movement? What are we afraid of?

7. Too many Christians have short (or selective) memories. I remember 1971 and the debut of the iconic Ad Council campaign simply called “The Crying Indian.” Remember Iron Eyes Cody standing on side of the road by a pile of trash with a lone tear streaming down his face? It’s considered one of the greatest commercials of all time. And what did it accomplish? By the end of that campaign’s run in 1983, litter in this country had been reduced by 88%.

I live not far from the Little Miami River, a historic waterway. A few years ago, that river was so filthy that canoeing companies that made their livelihood off the river were facing extinction. The water was so bacteria-laden from pollution run-off that anyone who fell in while canoeing faced a horrid gastrointestinal nightmare days later. Yet people who were saddened by what had happened to that beautiful river didn’t give in. Thousands worked to clean it up.

Today that river is pristine, with nearly all the driven-off wildlife having returned. Some folks cared enough to clean up that river. More cared to clean the air. Others focused on litter. People who were not satisfied with breathing smog and walking through empty pop cans did something about it. Who benefited? We all did. We live cleaner today because some people cared enough to make a difference. We can live even cleaner still.

Christians today have that same opportunity. Why should the children of the world show greater care of the Lord’s creation than we do?

Even if the whole global warming thing is a boondoggle, there’s no reason why we can’t all be less wasteful, live more simply, and show greater care of what God has given us. If the ECC accomplishes that tangentially, then we’re all better for their effort.

Now say it with me: UNLESS.

“‘Word of Faith’ Stupidity” or “Standing on the Promises”?


Ha! Ha! I Named It and Claimed It! Certain memes travel around the Godblogosphere in curious outbreaks. It’s as if a dozen people at once blog on the same subject without any prior knowledge of each other’s posts. Someone like me who reads blogs via an aggregator sees the impression of oddness double when so many of my regular reads are talking about the same point of doctrine.

Recently, there’s been a rash of Word-of-Faith postings out there, most of them negative. Brad at The Broken Messenger and Steve Camp at Camp on This are two that recently addressed this topic, Brad with “Word of Faith” and Steve with “Stupid People in the Church…and How Not to Be One.” I suspect that their reaction must be to the recently posted list of 50 most influential Christians that was curiously stacked with a large number of Word of Faith’ers. (Perhaps those on the list are being blessed the way they pray they will be! – Ha! Ha!)

I’ll come right out an say that I’m not a Word-of-Faith guy even though I go to a Pentecostal church, a familiar haunt for such folks. I regularly “must…restrain…the fist…of death” when listening to prosperity Gospel acolytes, but I’m also perturbed when I read something on the other side of the fence that seems resigned to whatever fate one has befallen. Steve Camp here:

What is the N.T. formula for “success” or “prosperity?” Paul gives us the clear biblical answer in 1 Timothy 6:6, “…godliness, plus contentment is great gain.” Are you living a godly life in accordance with the Word of God; are you content with what you have from the Lord—not seeking more or complaining of less? Then the Lord calls that, “great gain.”

I’m not sure an entire theology of God’s provision can be wrapped up in a portion of one verse. I’m sure that Steve Camp would tend to agree with that point. But what of his argument then? First of all, I think there’s “contentment” and then there’s “contentment with exception.”

A survey of the Bible contains person after person who cherished God, but there were a few lacks in their lives and they sought God to change their situations. One obvious example is Hannah. Barren and desperate for a child, she pleads before God and He blesses her with the future great leader of His people, Samuel. We saw the same request earlier in Rachel, likewise barren, who also petitioned God and was blessed with a son, Joseph, who grew up to save the lives of thousands, including his own family. And Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth, whose barren womb was opened to give Christ the Elijah that would prepare His way. Three women, none content in their childlessness.

Samson was not content with his role as a blind Philistine toy, but prayed to God that he would be granted one last curtain call, and with it he brought the house down—literally. Solomon was not content with his position as king as long as he was lacking the one thing he knew he needed to govern, wisdom. Jacob was not content with the wife he’d been fooled into accepting. If Lot had been 100% content with his lot, would he have fled Sodom at the Lord’s urging? Would Paul have cast out the spirit of divination from the slave girl who followed him around in Acts 16? Would the centurion have asked Jesus to heal his slave? Or Mary and Martha requested that Jesus come see their dying brother?

Lack of contentment, in many cases, is what drove great men and women of the Bible to pray big prayers and expect big things. But even the nameless people were not always content with their station in life. Lepers, the blind, and the lame all came to Jesus and asked for healing because they were not content with being infirm or diseased the rest of their days. Contentment does not mean resignation, but too often I see Christians treating it as if it were such. Being content means always keeping our eyes fixed on Christ, but it does not mean being a doormat for every lousy happenstance that comes our way. As Jesus Himself said:

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
—Matthew 7:7-11 ESV

I think the lesson here is that God is not against us petitioning Him because of a heart longing. John Knox in his zeal for souls went so far as to pray, “Give me Scotland or I die!” That doesn’t sound like someone who’s perfectly content. God honored Knox’s bold discontent.

I don’t believe the only kind of prayer that God answers is one for salvation for others, though. As I noted above, Christ healed and gave us the gift of healing. There’d be no reason for such a gift if people were to always be satisfied with illness. It seems to me that too many of us take God’s promises too lightly. We say that we believe the Bible, but then we start making excuses when it comes to certain promises. However, promises of God are not to be taken lightly. Take for instance the following:

You [God] keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.
—Isaiah 26:3 ESV

Simple, right? Who out there does not believe this verse? Now what about this?

Who is like the LORD our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth? He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of his people. He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. Praise the LORD!
—Psalms 113:5-9 ESV

Much harder, right? Do we believe that God raises the poor up to sit with princes? Do we believe that God gives the barren woman children? Why are we so quick to believe the promise in Isaiah 26 and not the promise in Psalm 113? Did that passage pass away with the coming of the New Testament? Should we chuck the Old Testament because the New replaced it entirely and it no longer contains the accurate truth about what God promises? Certainly not!

I said earlier that there was a difference between contentment and contentment with exceptions, and this is the key to knowing what to ask God for and how. The state of one’s heart must always be centered on Christ or else what we ask for is meaningless. As James writes:

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.
—James 4:1-3 ESV

Paul’s infamous thorn in the flesh is allowed to continue for the very reason that it kept him from becoming too prideful, what with all the amazing visions and healings that happened around him. So even a man of God as extraordinary as Paul can fall prey to passions that can undo him, just as James notes. Pride may have always been Paul’s chink in the armor, given that he was highly educated, a Pharisee, and a Roman citizen, all distinctly lacking in the other apostles.

So I don’t believe that Paul’s thorn is a prooftext for claiming that all requests for personal help go unanswered. Too many people claim just that and they derail the kind of faith that believes God’s promises as they are written. The Word of Faith’ers stumble because they often fall prey to what James describes. Nor are they always asking with their eyes on Jesus alone. Yet as much as their antics are a disgrace, they do a better job than some of us at taking God at His word.

In conclusion, the hymn “Standing on the Promises of God” and an appropriate promise of God:

Standing on the promises of Christ my King,
Through eternal ages let His praises ring,
Glory in the highest, I will shout and sing,
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing, standing,
Standing on the promises of God my Savior;
Standing, standing,
I’m standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises that cannot fail,
When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail,
By the living Word of God I shall prevail,
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises I now can see
Perfect, present cleansing in the blood for me;
Standing in the liberty where Christ makes free,
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises of Christ the Lord,
Bound to Him eternally by love’s strong cord,
Overcoming daily with the Spirit’s sword,
Standing on the promises of God.

Standing on the promises I cannot fall,
Listening every moment to the Spirit’s call
Resting in my Savior as my all in all,
Standing on the promises of God.

God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
—Numbers 23:19 ESV