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

18 thoughts on “On Millstones and Disconnects, Part 1

  1. Anonymous


    Got it in one, dude. I submit that claimed faith without demonstrated works – what you’re talking about – is the most fundamental problem with the Church in America today.

    If I don’t love my brother, how can I possibly love God? And if loving my brother involved no risk, why would God command it? Love is not a feeling – love is the choice to care for somebody, really, really care for them. That might mean listening. It might mean sharing wealth. It might mean selling all I have and giving it away (I’ve been recently convinced to give away a piece of property in a rural area to a homeless man who needs it).

    God will guide us, if we let Him.

    “Here I am, Lord; I will go.”


  2. plouffie

    Excellent post. It summed up one of my biggest issues with some of the Christian fellowships on my campus. I know a good deal of people who, for your first example, would think that there would be nothing wrong with choosing option ‘A’. To complicate matters, it’s basically impossible to dissuade them from their point of view. After three years, I’ve essentially given up, but it bothers me that a good deal of future church leaders (at least out here) cannot relate to people.

    All I can do is pray and have faith that God will change them…

  3. The Christian Woman

    I think you’ve hit the nail on the head, Dan. People want to follow Christ, but from a distance. He said some tough stuff!

    I remember a few years ago when my husband and I were looking for a new apartment in a very expensive city. My daughter was just a few months old and we needed to move out b/c of issues with the landlord, but were having trouble finding anything decent in our price range. A woman from my church who was married with three kids and living in a small 3 bedroom apartment sincerely offered to allow us to move in with them if we needed. At the time I thought she was crazy as we would have been packed in their place like sardines, but now I really appreciate her ability to live out her faith.

    But I’ll admit, I have fallen short in this area more than I care to admit. I tend to be good at the initial outreach, but from there I find it difficult to continue to follow up. It seems to me that our churches need to have a strong ministry in this area so that multliple members can carry the burden together and so that no one falls through the cracks.

    I look forward to your follow up.

  4. Standing_Firm

    Hi Dan,
    We live in Western Mass and I have to say over the past few years we have struggled to even keep warm in the winter. My husbands pay was cut by $35,000 per year and now makes under $50g and we support 7 people. We have picked through trash, cut up pallets etc to keep warm many, many times. We homeschooled our kids and had to struggle for curriculum etc. We have had times where food was pretty scarce. My teeth, well, we won’t go there. Where we went to church the pastor is making $100,000.00 and maybe he gives most away but I know that there are widows and people who planted that church who are really struggling. Some for food, some for meds, some for decent housing.

    What I have learned is that my walk and my joy is not dependent upon how much $ i have in the bank. I have learned not to look at what I perceive to be “success” in other people. Time and time again I have found myself envying others for what I think that they have and the Lord shows me something else horribly wrong in their lives that takes that envy away. I have realized that they have been allowed to be free financially because there bondage in other areas is horrendous. I would rather be poor than blind to my heart, etc. I am not making excuses for the church. I believe that we are living in the times of the Laodicean church age so I expect much worse to come. Lukewarmness takes many forms. I don’t have a church fellowship that I call home yet and I haven’t found one close enough to go to that I don’t have to drive for 30-45 minutes. Gas is $$ and have to consider that.

    Our Father has considered you and us worthy of this battle. We cannot look to our churches or brothers and sisters in Christ for the answers because they do not have the answers. They are weak and some are failing, even though they may look just fine, they are not. There are very few who have truly walked the narrow path. Some think that they have but they are whited sepulchres. Overcome and find the joy in Him and you will be free. I truly hope this helps and it is from the heart that I share this with you. I will be praying for you today and every time you come to mind.

  5. Another great post Dan..:)

    I think part of the problem is pastors who have trouble seeing exactly who their congregants are. They tend to think that they are all like them (the pastors). I once heard Madelyn Murray O’Hair’s son – the Christian one- the one she denounced – William, say that most of the sermons each week are directed to men between the ages of 25 and 55 who make over $50,000 a year, are married to a Christian wife and have two Christian children (or soon to be Christians). I believe Mr. O’Hair is right on. And why is this? Well, lok at the pastors. Many of them, if not most, fall into that category. In other words, they are preaching to themselves, and this also continues into their work with congregants throughout the week.
    I also think many pastors are insecure and single women terrify them. So, they just ignore them. But on the other hand, the way single men in the church are treated is like dirt too…so go figure.

    Oh, and to clarify something in your post..the pretty girls stay home on Saturday night too..in fact more so than the others, because the single men in church, as a group, are so insecure that they couldn’t face the rejection of a pretty girl saying no to a date. At least that is my observation after being in church single groups in various places for decades.

  6. I think the problem is simply a lack of genuine faith. The church is now a counseling center. Got a problem? There is a class to teach you how to turn things around. Things not turning around? You must not be doing what we told you to do.

    Jesus told us to feed the hungry, cloth the naked, take care of the widows and orphans, and in the words of the Jerusalem counsel, remember the poor. Instead, we have a political church that feels charity is enabling the poor and is therefor somehow wrong.

    I believe that we were to give to those in need and believe that the Holy Spirit would teach what people need to know. But the church does not trust Him to do that. So now, we have decided to take His place and do the convicting and instructing and then tell people that God will provide.

    How perverted is that?

  7. Gaddabout

    As the husband of a wife who has had four miscarriages, it is such heartache when people ask, “So when are you guys going to start a family?” The implication is we’re somehow being selfish. Or at least that’s how it’s perceived. It’s at that point we usually explain about the miscarriages, even though it’s excruciatingly painful for my wife. It’s even more frustrating when people stop calling you for fellowship because you don’t have kids who can relate to their kids.

    I thought I was in a small group as a single person. I had no idea what would happen when I got married and couldn’t have kids.

  8. Christian Woman,
    It’s good to know that people like the woman you mentioned still exist! Isn’t rich, but she’s willing to put everything she has into play. Frankly, I consider that to be real NT tithing.

    If you’re in college, that’s a whole ‘nother world. My college experiences didn’t seem real. It was like Disneyworld to me. That said, some of the greatest growth in my life as a believer came while I was in my sophomore year at Carnegie Mellon.

    Standing Firm,
    Being able to meet one’s obligations with some left over goes a long way to staying out of a funk. Not to say that joy is dependent on that, but happiness is. I think the two are distinctly different. But even as I say that, I go back to my post on the wicked prospering and wonder how it’s all linked together.

    When I was single, I had no problem pursuing the most attractive Christian women out there! Who are these wimpy guys?

    Some counseling is always needed, but I agree that we spend too much time in counseling and not enough doing those things that take the focus off of ourselves.

    Wow. I don’t know what to say. When we were living in Silicon Valley, all our older childless friends were trying like mad to get pregnant, while we didn’t even try hard and it was no problem. My wife felt guilty. It seemed like everyone we knew was having problems and had been for years. I never knew what to say. The good news was that the couple who had the worst problems eventually had healthy twins and I swore that they were a lost cause, especially since the husband was physically disabled and she was already forty when they got married. How can I encourage you better? Drop me an e-mail.

  9. darla


    I totally relate to your situation.

    When I was in college I couldn’t relate to my church friends back home because they were all getting married. Once I married I was excluded from all the girl talk about birth, breastfeeding and childcare. We got all those comments about starting a family too. Then there was the one miscarriage – what did I do to cause this? There were no more pregnancies. We have been married 21 years.

    We decided to adopt. I highly recommend it. However, it doesn’t diminish the pain of not being able to chime in on the conversations about pregnancy, breastfeeding, childbirth. We didn’t adopt for any altuistic reasons; we didn’t think we were “rescuing” anyone. We adopted for purely selfish reasons: we just wanted to have kids. Now I get odd looks when folks ask why my two children are 11 years apart in age. That’s just the way God gave them to us. Folks wonder why we “planned” it that way. Although I have two beautiful children whom I love beyond belief, I still feel the pain of somehow failed by never having given birth.

    I guess there is always a part of me that just doesn’t fit in. I suspect there are lots more folks out there who LOOK like they fit in, but they don’t feel like it.

    Sometimes we have to take the initiative and pursue relationships. Those folks who stopped inviting you to participate might feel like they are asking too much of you as they likely perceive you as a couple who might not be interested in the same things they are. They also might fear that they are asking a lot from folks who might have “better” things to do since you aren’t tied down with obligations that come with children. They also might think you might consider their children as a reminder of your pain. In short, they might not realize how much you really enjoy their company despite the difference in the size of your families.

    I pray I said all this well. I certainly do not want to add to your pain. I want to encourage you to pursue relationships despite the differences. And don’t give up on having a family. God put that desire in your heart for a reason.

    Blessings my brother,

  10. Stingray

    You’re probably the best Christian writer on the blogosphere and you hit a home run with this one.

    James writes that faith without works is a dead faith. Sometimes my own faith is joyously alive while at other times it’s on life support gasping its last breath.

    Praying with or for someone certainly brings out miracles but the best way to demonstrate our faith is to prove it by our works.

  11. Larry Who

    In an informal survey, I asked this question; “When I say the word ‘church’, what do you think of?”

    The top three answers in the order they were most given:

    1. Building
    2. Pastor
    3. Music

    Now, how can we ever expect a building, a pastor and music to be the compassionate Body of Christ? It is never going to happen; and yet, this is where we place our hope.

    Wolfgang Simson said that the traditional church system is the “fellowship without fellowship.” His reasoning for this is the unscriptural separation of professional clergy and the lowly lay people.

    I am the church. You are the church. It is a living organism with Christ as the head. We are not a batch of bricks and bunch of pews and one professional minister.

    So, we Christians can continue complaining and walking down the same old worn-out road of the traditional church system or we can try a new wineskin – the Home Church movement.

    But there again, the home church demands a commitment. A comitment to care about people as if they were family members. And if family members have needs, what choices do we have, but help them.

  12. Dire Dan: “Today’s is angry.”

    I’ve come to some conclusions:

    (1) Dan is probably a xtian “crunchy con”.

    (2) The state of Ohio must be one horrifically unfriendly place for xtian “crunchy cons”.

    I wish you could move here to North Idaho. I’d invite you over to my church.

  13. Dan McGowan

    Well, Dan – ka-BOOM!

    Have you read Barna’s “Revolution” or Reggie McNeal’s “The Present Future?” Cuz, it sounds like you have!

    On my blog, I just had a 2-post heated discussion that stemmed from me asking a simple question which is not too far off of what you are stating here… my question was this: “For all the years of Bible study we have had, has it really made a difference in our world?” Well – I was lambasted! Because people heard me saying, “stop reading the Bible” and that is not what I was saying. I was asking – for all our study of God’s Word, how come things are not changing for the better? And, the answer, as you have implied here, is that READING and DOING and LIVING are all different things…

    I have tons of music and midi gear – and each piece of equipment comes with a manual. I could read all those manuals and study them and even memorize them cover to cover, word for word – and win “merit badges” for my efforts along the way – but all that reading and memorization will NEVER cause me to make music – not until I put into practice what I have read will I be able to create music using that equipment.

    Great post, as always! And don’t be afraid to vent a little – it’s good to shake up the boat every so often!

  14. Oengus,

    Christian Crunchy Con?

    Let’s see:
    * Pro-environmental care
    * Owns an organic farm
    * Arch-conservative on government (I long for a fulfillment of “The Contract with America”)
    * Wrote Oklahoma Rep. Steve Largent in for president in 2000 because I didn’t think GWB was a real conservative (What happened to Largent down in OK when he ran for Governor was a crime; who knew the cockfighting lobby was that powerful?)
    * Pro-employee
    * Anti-globalism
    * Has a highly opinionated Christian blog
    * Sees the Ohio Amish communities and thinks, Hey, if I modify what they’re doing just a little….

    Ya think? 😉

    As for Ohio being unfriendly to Crunchy Cons, I live in one of the most conservative congressional districts in the United States. But the conservatives in the Greater Cincinnati area are mostly “Procter & Gamble Conservatives” that had no comprehension of anything organic until a Whole Foods or Wild Oats moved into their area. Oddly enough, some of those folks are starting to come around because the Republican leadership in this state has crushed Ohio economically. I recently read in the major newspaper near here that Ohio’s unemployment rate is 7 percentage points higher than the national average. That’s astonishing to me. I’ll be writing on this next week.

    There’s still a big divide between us Christian Crunchy Cons and the P&G Cons, though. They like their Whole Foods Free-Range Chicken because it’s trendy and taste good, but we like it because it’s the right way to raise chickens, it supports local farmers, and it’s more healthy for the environment. When we CCCs try to bring the Gospel into all this as a way of showing proper stewardship, then we’re just troublemakers.

    You live in Idaho? That’s actually one of the few states (Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, and North Carolina) that I’ve envisioned us living in. When I was a teen, I suddenly was convinced I’d live in this little backwater we live in now. I thought I’d one day live in Wisconsin, too. Coeur D’Alene is always singing a siren song for me. Asheville, NC, is, too. I had a dream that we lived in Yuma, AZ, also. What does it mean?

  15. Dan,

    Have not read Barna’s book and probably won’t. I find Barna essential reading when he’s doing polling, but lousy when he tries to offer solutions. I think he’s been wrong on every subsequent solution he’s ever devised for every poll he’s taken. He almost singlehandedly helped shove TQM into churches in the early 1990s and I hated that. Great polling, but run away when he starts telling you what it means or what we can do about it!

    Read The Present Future and took a ton of notes. Eighty percent of those notes are my disagreements with what’s he’s written, though. Part of the problem with books like McNeal’s is that they’re excellent in telling us the problems, but the solutions they offer are simply not radical enough; they’re just slight modifications of the same old junk they’re decrying.

    Nice analogy with the music. As a drummer, I’ve long contended that everyone thinks they can play drums. They can tell you everything about drummers, and even pick out the best equipment, but put them in a real band with real musicians and see how they play. Real drummer? Hardly.

    Too much of our Christianity is theoretical. It’s all in the head. When I take the pulse of the Godblogosphere, the beating is always in the direction of what people know. But Jesus repeatedly tore down those who claimed to know it all because they didn’t practice it. Doctrine and praxis MUST go together. And they can’t go together without causing us to get messy, because putting what we know into practice will ALWAYS put us in messy situations loaded full of messy people with messy worldviews and messed-up lives. Quoting a Bible verse at them and thinking we did our Christian duty is a sham.

    Jesus died a bloody pulp on the cross. If that doesn’t show us the way, then what will? None of this can be sanitized, but see how hard we try!

  16. Dan McGowan

    Not to try and force you into a corner, but your last BIG paragraph (not your closing 2-liner) sure SOUNDS a lot like McNeal and Barna… but, hey, what do I know? I can’t even PLAY drums… 🙂

  17. rev-ed

    Dan, good post as usual. I might suggest reading Barna like I did — glossing over his recommendations and just dealing with the “findings” portion. There are important findings in the book. It’s just a matter of getting past the rest of the content…

    It’s funny that I can’t relate as well to your examples in this post, as I am in one of those churches who will do “B” and still think they haven’t done anything. Maybe that’s part of the problem. Maybe unless people read (or force others to read) Scripture or talk about what the Bible teaches, they don’t feel like they’re doing what Jesus wants. To them, perhaps the listening and crying part doesn’t seem like they are doing their “Christian duty” or something. Choice “B” is something a friend would do. It’s more natural unless you are trying to appear “churchy”, if you get what I’m saying.

  18. Anonymous

    As a never-married forty-something Christian man, I’d like to address Diane’s comment and Dan’s reply about single men not dating.

    I live about 35 miles from a megachurch pastored by a young man who authored a book advocating courtship over dating. A couple of years ago, this same young man hosted a singles conference. A well-known seminary president gave an address at that conference equating adulthood with marriage and implying that singleness was a sin. As you can probably guess, this has not made it any easier for us single guys who would like to marry someday. If I were to ask a single Christian woman on a date, I would risk not only being turned down for a date but accused of engaging in wordly behavior for not following the method of pursuit approved by the self-appointed guardians of what is considered the proper Christian family.

    In addition, I live in a wealthy area yet earn a good deal less than $50K a year. That’s not good enough for many of the single Christian women around here, a sign that the prosperity doctrine still holds sway in much of the church. And even if I were to find someone willing to accept my income level, I could not afford even a fixer-upper around these parts on my salary.

    With the pressures and confusion we single Christian men face these days, it’s no wonder some have given up trying to find a spouse, some have turned to ungodly means to deal with their God-given desires, and some have simply thrown in the towel and given up on the church altogether.

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