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Archive for September, 2009

     I remember a time when I would get together with people and study the bible. I recall doing this in college.  We did have social Navigator meetings, but we also were taught how to do bible studies with others.  We even were encouraged to read our bible daily.  They called it a quiet time.  We were to study the bible, and dig into the word.  Often there would be a workbook with questions for a guide, but it really was about looking at the text.  I had one of these yearly while in college, if I recall right.  I even led one, though I felt very ill prepared.  Still, we did study the bible, and did go through it.  When a challenging person I met in the dorms would say, “you have to be baptised in my church to be saved” I could often dig with the group for verses to counter this person.  We could prepare for our daily lives, and could be encouraged by the scriptures.

When I got married, we were friends with a seminary student.  We got our own little bible study together.  We studied John for a year, and it was a great time.  We brought in a few other young people, and a few were unsaved.  It was a great time of fellowship, and a great time of digging into the bible.  We continued to study with this couple and a few others until we moved away from each other across the country.

When we lived in Seattle, we attended a bible study group.  I don’t recall it being called “small group” but bible study.  We did find it a bit frustrating because we’d go through a guide book and often it would be very simplistic.  However, we did stick to the text.  We socialized, we supported each other in illness, job loss and in gain, miscarriage, one woman had a drug addicted spouse, in new babies, and in moves (many of us moved and helped each other).  We did study and talk about the bible, we never focused on a book that had bible verses in it, but instead did studies on books of the bible.  We might also do a topical study but it was all pointing back to a block of scripture.

We moved back to Kansas and found a church with the word “bible” in it’s name.  We got involved in a small group.  I still called them bible studies, because that’s what I thought of when we would get together with a group of people with pens and bibles.  We began with the simple books on books of the bible or a topic, all focused in studying the bible and what it said.  However, after a few years, we began to do topical study and it wasn’t really about the bible.  We’d study things like marriage, our personal gift inventory, finances, or how to witness effectively.  We’d take personality quizes, financial inventories, study our love languages, or our spiritual gifts.  We’d discuss these findings outloud in the group.  It was very self focused, and yet it was also a time when we’d reveal personal things in a group.  We’d have projects during the week which took time.

Always, my husband and I would fight for studying a book in the bible.  We felt so good one year because we were able to get into the book of Acts.  We kept trying to get back to that kind of thing.  It was so wonderful to just dig, to  hear scripture read aloud every week.  It was a growing time. 

Small group for us was really mostly about the friendship.  We did have great relationships, and I believe our friends in those groups were mostly Christians who really desired to study God’s word and fellowship in Christian brotherhood.  We wanted to pray for one another, that was always a point that showed really what the groups were about for the people in them, the prayer support.  That’s where the caring came in.  People also did things to help each other in times of need.  There was nothing wrong with this, in fact it was one wonderful aspect of the groups that made up for all the books we went through.

The group would often get together and decide what we were studying.  This is how we ended up eventually pushing for bible study in the actual bible.  It became the desire of the leaders of our group (we eventually became leaders…with another couple).  We wanted to get into the meat.  However, there was always a pull to books like “The Five Love Languages.”  I was even one who suggested we do Max Lucado studies, partly because I felt these books got you into the text. 

One thing kept happening that was annoying to us personally, and I believe maybe others in the group though I cannot be sure.  The church would, at least once a year, have a series.  Usually it was a Rick Warren, Bill Hybels, or some other book.  It was not biblically focused although it did contain bible verses.  This series would run along side sermons.  I believe once there was no book, but the pastors had a topical study with their own studyguide for the group (though I believe this wasn’t manditory).  The manditory church wide study also involved a DVD…easy to pop in, easy to run right through. 

The group would meet, go through the DVD, discuss it, have a prayer and snack time.  These were very simplistic, and annoying.  I never objected outright, I found though we made comments at times during the DVD to keep ourselves entertained because we were bored.  One time my husband lead this and did feel some sense of accomplishment, he’d not lead the group alone before.  We did still get annoyed with the book and DVD though, it just was not very deep in biblical information.  It was more poor entertainment than anything.  The most entertainment we got actually, was making fun of the DVD in subtle ways. We usually also spiced up these times with personal testimonies and other activities rather than just plugging along in the book and DVD.

I recall getting less and less satisfaction from small group.  Not from our friends, but from the bible study part.  There were people in the group also who said they really desired to study in a book of the bible rather than in these men’s books.  We recalled our time studying Acts, and the comment was that it was a great year. 

So, what happened?  I believe churches in this trend of church wide study of books by men, and even topical study books, are in a cycle of immaturity.  These  churches have leaders who want to reach the seeker, and are refusing to even call themselves Christians but want to be Christ followers instead.  They’ve substituted men’s wisdom (which is foolishness) for God’s word.  They’ve substituted a focus on the living Savior for a focus within the man. 

It’s all about five steps, or if that gets old, about finding the mystery.  I almost feel these churches actually run in some sort of cycle.  First they entertain you, then they talk about how entertainment shouldn’t be what we’re about.  You feel guilty because you realize you’ve been entertained, and you agree, more should be happening.  So you are told you need to find your spiritual gift, and another small group theme begins.  Later you’re told it’s easy to become selfish or self foucsed in sermons, that we focus too much on busy life and on ourselves, then you’re challeneged to find your purpose, and another church wide study begins on Purpose Driven or whatever.  Then you go along happy for a while, and you’re told you need to reach out to your neighbor, and Hybels study comes along when you learn how to witness.

The next step in the cycle is discussing the youth, and how we’re missing them.  We’re also studying too much.  Youth like action, boom…you’re out picking up trash in a park or painting a school yard in service.  Eventually, you begin working on going deeper in your relationship.  You need to get closer to God, so we’ll discuss spiritual disciplines.  There you go, you’re deep.

Far, far away is the church life you had to begin with.  Sunday school with bible study, or some midweek bible study is impossible.  No longer offered at church.  Sure, you might get your group to go along with studying a book of the bible, but likely not for long.  People hear how good so and so’s book is, and they suggest it.  If you become the leader, which is encouraged, you need to let the group decide what to study until the church leadership decided to invade with an all church study.

Where did bible study go?

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Steven W. Smith has a small group study, done church wide, circulating right now.  It leads people straight into contemplative prayer and maybe more.  First of all, the account of Lazarus is completely misused.  I have provided links for your non-enjoyment and research.

 

http://www.faith-life.org/Worship/Sermons/tabid/51067/Default.aspx

 

This sermon outright takes the congregation through imagery and contemplative prayer.

 

http://www.faith-life.org/Portals/1539/Sermons/090125%20Lazarus%20Life%20-%20Part%204%20-%20%20Learning%20to%20Listen%20to%20Jesus.pdf

 

You can download the first chapter here:

 

http://lazaruslife.com/book.htm

 

And here is a sample of the study:

 

http://www.davidccook.com/catalog/resources/samples/106183.pdf

 

Steven W. Smith’s “other” ministry:

 

http://www.pottersinn.com/

 

This page has Steve Smith speaking about the Lazarus Life.  I know you can get a clue there are big problems, but he holds back where he is going.  I feel this tactic is used in contemplative circles all over the place.  Hiding the agenda is what it’s about.  Then you have the people in life groups, small groups, whatever, and it’s harder to leave because of group think and also the love you develop for your friends.  So they cannot be up front.  I am sad that people don’t listen to the warnings, we took years to see it.  This man speaking at our former church though got me to start searching and that’s how I eventually found out about Dallas Willard (our former church pastors read Willard’s work and promoted him)  and learned a lot from sights  like Apprising Ministries, Slice, Lane’s Blog, TeamPyro, and Lighthouse Trails. 

 http://lazaruslife.com/interview.htm

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I really thought this was a great sermon today. It was also communion Sunday.

Last week, a couple in the USA seeking political asylum was being deported. They had come from a South American country (I hope I recalled it right) and were threatened by drug runners. Their children were threatened. They had to do something, so they came to the United States. They ended up in the church I attend now, and though they were not Christians before, became believers and followers of Christ. They go into an unknown situation, and have an opportunity to possibly witness to others.

A woman in our church has been battling Leukemia. Though she has so far conquered cancer, the treatments have rendered her immune system worthless and she also struggles with the new marrow attacking her organs. She was really struggling in the hospital last week with a lung infection and then later hallucinations. Her husband updated the congregation. He is weary, his family is sad, and his wife is weak. They trust in the Lord for their strength, and know he is in control of life and death. They have been on an emotional roller coaster ride for several months (maybe two years). It’s been horrible for them, they have really suffered.

The sermon today was given especially because there is great suffering going on in our church. Christians go through trials, but nothing compares to the sufferings of Christ. We can know that all our sufferings are not for nothing. They do not save sinners, but we can be given grace and mercy…we can show God’s glory in our sufferings.

Here is the sermon, it’s worth a listen:

http://www.cside.org/podcast/cside.xml

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Sometimes my husband and I still speak to each other about the events leading up to our leaving our former church.  We rehash and analyse what happened point by point.  We both came out with a point we had been thinking, and it’s an interesting problem. 

Our former lead pastor has some sort of anger issues, this is evident from his confrontational style.  He is not a good listener, and really bowled us over.  He prepared for the last meeting like a student debater who wanted to “win.”  Maybe it’s his style, maybe it’s all the others before us who have made him so defensive and even very offensive in stance.  This would be no surprise to anyone who knows him and has dealt with him.   Not saying he doesn’t have his good qualities, it’s just how he is.  This we suspected, and now know…our lead pastor is either power hungry or very manipulative or both. 

The point we’ve come to though is not about this pastor, it’s about the “good cop” pastor.  I’ve personally been puzzled about him.  He didn’t want us to leave, and enouraged us to write our letter, and met with us a few times.  I told him everything I thought at the time, and ran the letter through him.  He encouraged us to put more specifics in.  It seemed he was on our side, and he did honestly caution us that he was not the lone pastor in this church fighting a battle.  He saw some of the issues we did, but obviously didn’t agree with it all necessarily.  Yet he thought our approach was humble and we were a good couple to bring these issues to the forefront. 

This was all well and good, until closer to our meeting with the head pastor.  Good cop (who was kind all throughout) warned us to be “teachable.”  In our meeting with the lead pastor, his conclusion was that we were no longer teachable.  Okay, we knew they had been meeting, but the same words came out of both mouths.  When the whole thing was over, we didn’t contact the good cop pastor about it except just to say we had a terrible meeting.  He did not pry. 

It’s hard to covey why in this post, but we both came to the conclusion that we were kind of being used by the good cop pastor to bring up issues.  He did squarly differ than us in that he thought terminology was nothing important.  Examples he was not uncomfortable with were words like “spiritual formation” and “transformation.”  He also didn’t want us to attack anything from Warren or Hybels.  I believe he saw the fringe things that were new age in nature or emergent in flavor as a problem.  He recognized the problem with Youth Front and it’s contemplative/meditative prayer.  He even sent them a note and asked them to remove a link to meditative prayer on their website, which they did.

He also asked the youth pastors about youthfront, and they assured him they ran their camps not youth front.  This was a problem for me personally though, I think the issues at youth front are huge and being there, promoting camps there, and the fact that children growing up in our former church go to an emergent church influencing youth front.  He may have gotten the cosmetic problem put away, but there was no real confrontation.

We were hung up to dry and I feel, had time gone on with us in the house, we would have had to walk such a careful line.  If we spoke in any way that would have been seen aggressive, we would have been chastised.  If we would not compromise in the right areas, we would have been seen as divisive.  This good cop pastor had to bow to authority of the lead pastor, and this causes problems.  Of course it’s important to recognize authority, but if there are serious problems they need to be seriously confronted.  A couple like us felt on our own in this.  Even with the pastor that seemed to be with us a bit, we were in the dark about previous confrontations that were similar, and were kept from opening this up to the entire church leadership.  One particular assistant pastor also was protected in all this, and it was his sermon causing all our questions to begin with.

All the special politics, the way things are confronted and dealt with, it all seems like a strange corporation.  The mystery the whole time was “what is the best way to do this?”  We didn’t know who we were to go to, and what the “protocol” was.  What was the biblical way to do this?  Who should we have confronted?  We went to elders, and got unsatisfactory wishy washy answers to our questions.  Our investigations and the sermons confirmed our fears of emergent/new age influence and youth front was a real problem.  We finally just decided to quietly leave. 

The “good cop” pastor had to be informed as I did a small thing for the church and he was the one in charge of this.  He wanted to know why we were leaving and encouraged our letter.  This finally seemed like the right thing for a while.  I believe though, there is no real right way to confront error in this church.  Yes, there is a right biblical way to do things.  However, there is no way in this church to do it so that there is peace and the whole truth comes forth.  The lead pastor really pushed, and my own personal weakness got the best of me.  I excitedly told a former attender in public my reasons for leaving the church and was overheard.  This was reported to the lead pastor and a mess insued.  We were “spreading rumors” and according to the former lead “telling lies from the pit of hell.”  At least at that point we were no longer under the authority of the former church.  We had left. 

If the former “good cop” pastor was really with us, as I initially thought, I believe he would see the issues and would have to eventually make his exit or make a ruckus of some sort.  Last time I saw him, and it was at a play at our former church this past summer, he used some interesting phrases such as “journey” and “coversation.”  He very much seems to be in the Hybels/Warren style of it all.  Maybe I’m wrong, but he really seemed to be in it all.

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I recently was recommended to read works by Watchman Nee which can easily be found online free. He was a Christian in China. I know he wrote many books, and have just started going through one. He takes a great deal of time to explain the three parts of man…the soul, the spirit, and the flesh. Anyone know this one and what do you think?

  Because I am just starting, I’m finding some wording used uncomfortable.  God consciousness, self consciousness, and world consciousness is used.  Some of the explaination of three parts of man feels a bit like gnosticism in that parts are described like the light.  I haven’t read far enough to know if this is just a feeling I’m getting or if there is truly something to watch out for.

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But the Music…

I have heard the chief complaint of the reformed style (I think anyway) Baptist church we attend is the music, from those who have tried it instead of our former seeker friendly “not emergent but not NOT emergent” church.  What exaclty is the problem here? 

In our new church we sing great hymns, some I have never heard before.  It’s simple, at the start of the service there is a small set of music.  There is a young man who leads the music time, and he plays a guitar.  There is a young woman who plays piano.  We do not have hymn books, which I miss and want, but I understand since there is a deaf population in our church and using an overhead style can help them sign to the words.  There is no drum, the music is not loud or driving.  People who can sing well are of a more chorale style.  The rest of us just do our best.

I know the first few Sundays I felt a bit off singing.  It felt a bit faster than the former church.  Nothing is really repeated, but hymns are sung the whole way through, with all verses.  It is meaty, and often difficult to sing along with when you’re not used to it.  However, in singing this way week after week, I have begun to really pay attention to the poetry and the words.  The music is of higher caliber and the lyrics are intelligent.  No repetition of “open the eyes of my heart Lord (what does this mean anyway?)  I want to see you…I want to see you…I want to see you…(slower now) I…..want…to…see eeeee youuuuuuuu.” 

We don’t dance, though I do move because well, I move when I sing.  We don’t clap.  There’s nothing wrong with clapping, I like it.  We just don’t do this in our newer church.  I don’t think I’ve seen hands raised either.  I don’t ever do this myself, but no songs call us to kneel or raise hands….there’s no suggestions like that in the music.  It’s all about God and not our response to him. 

I personally really enjoy the hymns.  I also hear my children singing them at home.  It’s deeper in meaning, actually more theologically correct.  The music challenges the mind and is for worship.  It’s not about entertaining and whipping us into an emotional frenzy.  I like not being manipulated. 

I’m not saying having a drum set or playing music in a contemporary style is wrong, I do not believe this.  I do think though that many churches are missing discernment when they plan a playlist.  One example I can think of is the many songs brought into the church that come from heretical thought.  The beliefs of those writing the music is important.   There are many songs with lyrics that lack depth or appear to be love songs to a lover rather than a worship song to Christ.  There are songs written by men who are of questionable theology (I can think of a group like Phillips Craig and Dean who subscribe to Oneness Pentacostal doctrine).  The songs are brought in as worship but the meaning is lost on the congregation.  So  many groups cross over and use one another’s songs, so it’s really hard to judge.

To me, it’s important that the messages from the pulpit are true.  It’s also important that the music be true.  It’s all important.

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