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.

Why I Don’t Understand Church Planting…


What if this were the starting point?I once visited a city in Illinois that had an intersection of two large roads that formed four corners and had a megachurch hunkered down on each corner. Four cathedral-sized church buildings. Four different denominations. Four XXXL parking lots.

I didn’t understand then, and I still don’t.

What constitutes church planting in the United States baffles me. The four churches at that intersection were built at different times, so at some point some group of church planters said, “Despite the fact that there is already a gigantic church right across the street, we’re going to plant a better one.”

When I read the Scriptures, it seems that churches were planted where no church previously existed anywhere nearby. Perhaps having only one “brand” of church back in those early boom days of the Faith made all the difference, but the fact that we have about 10,000 brands of Christianity within the collective Church shouldn’t be a factor. If I plant a church right across the street from another church because I believe that my brand is better, then I’m not sure that should be labeled church planting. It’s more like the competition between McDonalds, Burger King, and Wendy’s. Same burger; slightly different flavor.

You’d be hard pressed to build a church in America that wasn’t already in another church’s backyard, but it can still be done. I’ve got to believe a lot of inner cities are lacking in good churches. Same for some of the most rural/backwater areas of the U.S. Problem is, most bright, shiny church planters don’t want to plant churches in those places. I guess that’s because they lack the Starbucks needed to get a church planted. I mean, how is one supposed to do demographic studies and plot marketing campaigns when one lacks access to a decent latté and a (free) Wi-Fi signal?

I can see how a church plant in a remote area that may only draw twenty families or so can help the Body of Christ grow, even if that growth is not explosive. There wasn’t a church at all in an area and now there is—seems like a positive step forward. That’s the way they’re doing it in overseas nations where revival burns hot. You don’t see rival churches springing up to split communities into factions. The community IS the church, and vice versa.

But here, it seems to me what some church planters do is more akin to fostering envy. Their new church is hotter. Their new church is cooler. Their new church meets a felt need not addressed by the church across the street. So people in that community shuffle from church to church. Or the new church plant sucks completely dry some older church that wasn’t quite as hip. And the church planter gets a pat on the back for doing a fine job moving people from Them to Us.

Meanwhile, the percentage of people who are genuine born-again Christians in this country continues to drop. Meanwhile, the number of people attending church on the weekends falls off a cliff. More new churches than ever, and yet worse results.

What really troubles me is that you don’t need the Holy Spirit at all to start what passes for the average church plant here in the U.S. You just need a clever marketing campaign. In fact, if one of the challenges on the TV show The Apprentice were to start a church that had a hundred regular attendees within six months , I suspect the contestants would have no problem doing so, even if not a single one of those contestants was born again.

How sad is that?

You want a real test of God’s power? John the Baptist, by the Holy Spirit empowering his ministry, helped restore a dead nation to life. This is one reason why Jesus said there was no prophet greater than John.

In that same way, where are those people who call themselves church restorers? Any hip market researcher can start what passes for a church, but how many of them, without the power of God, can walk into a dead church and breathe new life into it? Honestly, if this country has 300,000+ churches and no genuine revival in the vast, vast majority of them, how many church plants are going to change that reality?

What if we put more emphasis on church restoration than church planting? What if we commissioned people to go out and breathe new life into cold, dead churches?

That requires more than just a $10,000 marketing budget, folks. That requires the power of God to raise the dead.

Obviously, being a church restorer is ridiculously hard work. It may mean walking into Mt. Forlorn United Methodist Church in downtown East Nowhere, with its pockets of  gray-haired seniors and smattering of families with small children, and asking the pastor, “What can I do to help make this a vibrant, effective meeting of the Saints of God?”  It may mean laboring in forgotten fields, fields that don’t generate the buzz that leads to getting your face and mine splashed across the front of Christianity Today. It may never pay anything, never lead to a pastorate, never amount to anything that profits the flesh. But it may be exactly what God desires of a person destined to make an enormous difference within the church landscape in America—and ultimately, for His Kingdom.

I’ve had church planters attempt to explain all this to me—the need to plant a church right next to an existing one, the need to plant it in a highly visible suburban area with high traffic—yet their responses always seem to be missing something.

I’m not writing this to break the backs of church planters. I understand their zeal. It’s just that I have these questions and no one seems to have a answer for them that makes any sense.

No Good Reason


Not mine, but not too much different...Back a half a year ago or so, a small earthquake in southern Illinois radiated far enough east to successfully remove the overloaded “clothing management system” from the wall on my side of our master bedroom walk-in closet. As it took five months for me to locate the replacement wall connectors to reattach the system, and I have been too busy to deal with them once I bought them,  the system remains unattached.

This means the majority of my clothing is in plastic bins sitting on our bedroom floor.

Over time, the amount of clothing seemed to pile up, and I went from two bins to five. Annoyed that my clothing should occupy so many bins and so little drawer space, etc., I decided to consolidate.

In sorting through this clothing, the realization that I throw away just about nothing hit home. If anyone needs clothing for extras in the next Night of the Living Dead sequel, call me. I don’t know what it is about me that I have no qualms about wearing jeans that look like they were savaged by a pack of rabid wolves, but there you go. I guess when you do farmwork, any excuse for work clothes will suffice.

At least that’s what I tell myself. It’s the other clothing I can’t explain.

Truthfully, I’m not sure I can come up for a reason for the following:

2 suits

2 sportjackets

7 pairs of dress pants

8 long-sleeved dress shirts

8 long-sleeved casual shirts

11 pairs of casual pants or jeans

3 sweatpants/sweatshirt combos

3 cardigans

5 pullover sweaters

3 turtlenecks

20 T-shirts

12 pairs of short pants

9 short-sleeved Polo shirts

I could go on. I’m sure most of you could, too, if you did the same inventory.

And sure, some of my stuff has seen its better day, as in “not fit for Goodwill.” But still. I want to come up with an explanation, but I can’t except to say that even a cheapskate like me who hasn’t bought more clothing in the last two years than two pair of “Sunday go t’ meetin'” pants is still beholden to consuming.

As simply as I try to live, I still have too much stuff. And when I try to tell people I don’t really need them to buy me more stuff, they do anyway. My in-laws were concerned that our home was devoid of stuff that screams Christmas, so they asked if they could remedy the situation so that our son didn’t miss out on the atmosphere of the season. So they bought us outdoor lights and some garland. We put them up this weekend and they look nice. I very much appreciate my in-laws’ generosity.

Still, it’s more stuff.

I keep trying to find ways to give away stuff, but it never seems to work.

I lie awake at night because I realize that I may have to explain myself someday to my Creator and I’ll have no good reason for all my stuff. When I think of whose expense that stuff may have come by, I sleep even less.

Something about building even bigger barns troubles me.