Confusing Dross for Gold


As I write, 53 is staring me in the face. I used to think that was old. Or at least, likely to place you in the group of “not with the times.” Out of touch. Maybe even a little confused by all the cool, happenin’ stuff the kiddies dig. You with me, man? Groovy.

So, recently…

I watched a 47-minute video on the simplicity of the Gospel in which the preacher didn’t once, to my recollection, state what the Gospel was. And if I was somehow lost in my befuddled dotage for the one time he may have briefly zoomed through it, he certainly did not go into any detail. Instead, he regaled us with numerous stories about the bang-up job he did personally ministering this mysterious gospel-thingy to random people he encountered. I wondered if those people got a clearer picture of the Gospel in those encounters with him than I did in the video.

My son said that in a similar meeting his group talked about the origins of Cain’s wife. Because teenagers around the world are giving up on a personal relationship with Jesus and wandering away from the faith because no one shared with them the facts behind Mrs. Cain’s being.

I sang a “worship song” that had me beseeching for the rain to fall on me. Or us. The plurality of the intended recipient(s) of that wetness is unclear to me now (again, the beginnings of dementia, I believe), as is the intent of being rained upon by what/whom and for what purpose. Still, after I was done singing, I felt like a full-blown pluviculturist.

Meanwhile, the media is telling me that Christians are up in arms—heaven knows my arms are tired from always being up about something—because of Starbucks’ red holiday cups. Of course, this has friends of mine who aren’t Christians belittling that up-in-arms-ness, whether actual Christians are upset by this or couldn’t care less. Somewhere, a Christian is miffed, so this is news and must be reported upon.

Somewhere else, a pastor is up-in-arms (there we go again) about consumeristic Christians picking and choosing churches like they pick which roast of coffee (served in a Christless red cup, no doubt) they prefer. Then those ingrates stop coming every week, like they’re supposed to. Because, consumerism. What sinners in need of repentance! This, of course, blames the people in the pews for reacting to the various marketing ploys hatched up by certain church leaders in an effort to draw more folks to their church rather than to the church across the street. Call it “The Great Church Growth Arms Race” (or “Mutually Assured Destruction, Christian Style”—as the case may be), as church leaders add one more thing they think will grab folks and then blame those folks for succumbing to the lure.

{ Insert colorful expletive here }

SlagWhen I was a kid, my brothers and I collected rocks. We even had a cool display of different types of raw gemstones and minerals.

One day, I encountered one of the showiest hunks of rock I had ever seen. It had layers of color, shimmered in the light, and featured weird, bubbly extrusions. Fascinating, but I could not identify it. A meteorite? Whatever it was, it just HAD to be priceless.

At a gem and mineral show, a lapidarist informed me it was a piece of slag.

The term the Bible employs for slag is dross. It’s waste left over from smelting precious metals. As leftovers from the real thing, it may look cool, but it’s still waste and therefore worthless.

I wonder if somewhere along the line, we Christians, in an effort to refine what we knew to be gold, wound up valuing the dross instead. I can’t make sense of life anymore unless I come to this conclusion. Nothing else fits.

After a while, you wonder if you’re the one off-kilter. That there’s something wrong with you when you find dross and recognize it for what it is, but everyone else thinks it’s beautiful and valuable. You begin to doubt if you still have all your aggies, jaspers, and swirlies.

I think the world is getting stranger, especially for the discerning Christian. More and more fellow Christians will confuse dross for gold as life gets more bizarre, and the discerning folks will be left baffled by their fellows’ confusion.

Nothing good ever comes to the person who says in public, “Hey, wait a sec, that ain’t right….” At least from an earthly perspective that’s true.

At one point, I questioned whether we should say anything. Perhaps silent, internal acknowledgment proved the best response.

But now, I think born-again Christians who are led by the Spirit must graciously, winsomely, and lovingly point out to fellow Christians that that object of admiration their fellows hold in their hands is most likely waste and not the pure gold they should treasure.

In an age when all correction meets with anger, it is certain that such speaking will not generate thank you’s, but it must be done. Again and again and again. Or else, we will all lose our minds, and quite possibly our souls too.

How Christians Spellbook the Bible and Miss the Gospel Entirely


eye of newt potionAbout the only time you’ll hear Christians talking about witchcraft is around Halloween. Then, you’ll be warned why trick or treating is associated with village crones who practiced earth religions and had a thing for mandrake. Loose associations with the Devil will be discussed. Handwringing will be commenced. Dire warnings of hell will be proclaimed. Passive voice will be used. Horrors.

Specks, actually.

And by that, I mean this speck:

“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
—Matthew 7:3-5 ESV

If you’ve been a Christian even a couple months, you’ve probably read or heard that passage. It’s common. But how often do we see the relevance?

I find it interesting that Halloween and Reformation Day coincide. Protestant Christians celebrate the day that Martin Luther pounded his complaints against the unbibilical practices of the Roman Catholic Church to the door of his local Catholic cathedral, thus kicking off the Protestant Reformation.

The key to the Reformation was the Gospel. Somehow, buried beneath all the crap of religious performance and “do this and don’t do that” pseudo-Christianity, the truth that Christ brought with Him in Himself mouldered, dormant. What came of the Reformation is that many a Christian died to resurrect that neglected truth.

The Presbyterian Church arose due to the Reformation. The Presbyterians have long been a church that gets the authority of the Bible correct, one of the hallmarks of Reformation thinking and the rediscovery of the Gospel of Grace.

So yesterday, I’m listening to a podcast from a noted Presbyterian church, and the speaker is telling me that effective prayers follow the format that King David prayed in the Psalms. That God answers the kinds of prayers that are humble, that start by invoking God’s name, that mention God’s glory before anything else is prayed. To be an effective prayer, one must pray that prayer with a specific attitude, that the prayer cannot be too needy or too self-centered, so it must contain little of oneself and a whole lot of what is not oneself.

I listened to that podcast for a half hour as the preacher went on and on about how to pray perfectly before I finally had enough and switched it off.

Since we started with a reference to witchcraft, let’s do a little comparison:

Witch thinking: For me to get what I want from the elemental spirits of the earth, my potion needs to brewed under a full moon and have mummified bat wings, a drop of hippopotamus sweat, some tincture of hemlock, and a hint of eye of newt. Stir for an hour counterclockwise while envisioning the outcome. I should probably be naked while I concoct it, too.

“Christian” thinking: For me to get what I want from God, my prayers need to be done in the morning, and I should praise God first, then follow the pattern of King David in the Psalms, sprinkle in the prayer of Jabez for certainty, and pray with faith, while also being humble, with totally pure motives, thus being naked in spirit before the Lord.

Between you and me, I’m not sure I see the difference. Both are formulas designed to get something from a power, which will only happen if performed and brewed correctly by the supplicant. And we know what the formula and ingredients are, because the pastor told us on Sunday.

Earlier, we saw the speck. There’s the log.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t even do a grocery list right. I write down a dozen items, shop for an hour, and still come home missing the corned beef and mayonnaise. How in the heck am I going to get the “10 Steps for a Perfect Christian Marriage” right? How will I recall the “12 Keys to Raising Godly Children”? I mean, even if I get it right Monday, Tuesday is another day.

What if I forget the eye of newt?

I can understand why a lot of people don’t want to go to church anymore. Too much of what we give people resembles a spellbook. If we just combine the right ingredients the right way, the way the pastor and elders say, a perfect life will pop out of the cauldron.

But what we don’t ever allow for is the frailty and fallenness of human beings. We don’t give people a way to be real and flawed.

The truth is, I’m never going to go into prayer with pure motives because nothing about me is pure, ever.

I’m not going to remember how David or Hezekiah or Jesus prayed. And I’m not going to perfectly replicate their life situation at the time of that prayer either.

I’m not going to recall the steps for doing such and such the godly Christian way. Heck, I’m not sure where I parked the car in the church parking lot.

I’m not always going to be on. Sometimes, I’m going to be off. Most of the time, honestly.

We no longer appear to understand those truths about ourselves. The Reformation? The Gospel of Grace? What are those? Somehow, we Christians today are reburying the Gospel under a pile of performance-based crap to moulder for some other generation to find.

A reminder of what that Gospel is: Jesus did it all perfectly so we don’t have to.

We don’t have to gin up perfect motives when we come to God in prayer because Jesus’ motives were always perfect.

We don’t have to say the formula perfectly because Jesus said it all, and just in the right way.

We don’t have to get the order and ingredients right because Jesus took care of everything for us.

If we’re in Jesus, we’re set. It is finished. Jesus did it all. Period.

People are lost because they’re still trying to make the recipe themselves, the way they think it should be, if they can find that recipe at all. For the Christian, none of that matters. Finished, all of it.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t need to go to church to hear how I’m doing it wrong and need to fix my recipe. I need to hear how Jesus perfectly did it all for me, so I no longer need to worry about getting it right, ever.

Because that’s the Gospel. That’s the Good News. That’s the Bible being used the right way, to tell the story of Jesus and what He did for you and for me so we can stop all our striving and rest in Jesus’ finished work—not the wrong way, as the ingredient list and formulas we need to spell up the solutions to our problems.

Because the real witchcraft is relying on ourselves to get it done and done right. And that’s not just relegated to Halloween but to nearly every day of most people’s lives, even far too many “Christian” lives.

Christian Podcasts Worth Listening To


OK, so the title is a little hyperbolic, and perhaps I give my own tastes too much credit. Regardless, I think these podcasts are worth your time.

I want to add that while some individual churches do publish podcasts, and I do listen to a few of those, I want to keep this list unaffiliated to any one congregation. So, there are no individual church podcasts in the list. I hope that’s understandable.

No particular order follows, just good, solid content. May these all richly bless you.

Fire on Your Head (Steve Bremner)

Fire on Your Head

Fire on Your Head (Steve Bremner) is one of the best charismatic podcasts out there. A missionary in Peru and a Canadian national, Steve brings a different perspective. I find myself saying “amen” to this podcast more than any other, and for those of you who have wondered what a podcast of Cerulean Sanctum might be like, Fire on Your Head is about as close as it gets. I’m working backward from 2015 in my listening to this, but so far, it’s solid stuff. The podcast on worship alone is worth 100 listens (“Entering into God’s Presence without Even Singing Songs.”)

No Lasting City (Peter Smythe)

No Lasting City

No Lasting City (Peter Smythe) is another top-notch charismatic podcast, with a focus on Bible exposition. That alone makes it unusual. Peter is a lawyer by profession, and his reasonings on both familiar and difficult passages make sense and may even challenge you to think differently about the Scriptures. My only complaint? He needs to publish more frequently!

The Phil Vischer Podcast (Phil Vischer)

The Phil Vischer Podcast

The Phil Vischer Podcast (Phil Vischer) examines popular culture and Church oddities through the slightly off-kilter lens of the VeggieTales creator. Joining him are Miami University of Ohio grad Skye Jethani, who provides the theological insights, and Christian Taylor, who provides the heart and the grounding. Guests appear also. Interesting, sometimes controversial, but always fun.

The Mockingpulpit (Mockingbird)

The Mockingpulpit

The Mockingpulpit (Mockingbird) is a team effort by the folks at Mockingbird, ardent promoters of Law/Gospel preaching from an Episcopal point of view. The messages are from a variety of speakers/teachers/preachers, but all of them are thought provoking and grace filled. Some of the best preaching I’ve ever heard has come from this site. Not every message will slay you, but many will. Soaked through with the grace we so need to embrace.

Christ Hold Fast Cast (Christ Hold Fast)

Christ Hold Fast Cast

Christ Hold Fast Cast (Christ Hold Fast) is also a team effort, but by the folks at Christ Hold Fast, also ardent promoters of Law/Gospel, this time from a Lutheran point of view. Less preaching than Mockingbird, but still offers grace-filled discussions and interviews. Caters to a younger, hipper crowd, but even this old guy likes it.

Virtue in the Wasteland (Jeff Mallinson & Daniel van Voorhis)

Virtue in the Wasteland

Virtue in the Wasteland (Jeff Mallinson & Daniel van Voorhis) tackles culture, history, philosophy, ethics, and religion from a Lutheran perspective. The hosts are professors at Concordia University, and the smarts in this podcast will enlarge your mind. These two down-to-earth guys will help bolster your Christian worldview, guaranteed, while the connections they draw will make you smile.

Let My People Think (Ravi Zacharias)

Let My People Think

Let My People Think (Ravi Zacharias) enlightens with Christian apologetics from a man who is a treasure to the Body of Christ. What I love most about Ravi: His intellect never obscures his heart. He’s got you saying “amen” one moment, and you’re crying the next. Many of the podcasts are repeats of older talks, but fresh material arrives now and then. No matter, it’s all superb.

Unbelievable? (Justin Brierley)


Unbelievable? (Justin Brierley) is the quintessentially British take on apologetics, with a BBC-like feel. Host Justin usually features two guests from opposing sides who discuss a theological or ethical issue. Given that some of the loudest atheist voices are British, it’s often atheist versus Christian. One of the headiest podcasts out there, you’ll definitely learn a few things about competing worldviews by listening. Fire up your pipe, pour a couple fingers of 18-year-old Talisker, and have a go.

The God Journey (Wayne Jacobsen)

The God Journey

The God Journey (Wayne Jacobsen) is a podcast for folks burned by institutional “churchianity.” While I have reservations about Wayne’s association with the book The Shack (he was a collaborator with the author), I’ve found his insights into letting go of religious dross and renewing one’s intimacy with God to be freeing, plus he comes from a solid Foursquare background. Still, he remains controversial. If you feel the way we do Church in America makes cold, hard stones instead of warmhearted disciples, Wayne might be worth a listen.

So, lend these podcasts an ear if you want to be edified. And feel free to comment or to suggest other Christian podcasts you find helpful.

God bless you.