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Posts Tagged ‘contemplative prayer’

Steven W. Smith is the author of  the book, The Lazarus Life: Spiritual Transformation for Ordinary People and companion study guide Living the Lazarus Life: A Guidebook to Spiritual Transformation.  He also is co-founder (with his wife, Gwen) of The Potter’s Inn in Colorado, which is promoted as “a Christian ministry devoted to spiritual formation and soul care.” http://www.pottersinn.com/soulcare/retreat-seven-commitments.htm

Steve also has authored several other books including Embracing Soul Care, Soul Shaping, The Transformation of a Man’s Heart and Soul Care: The Seven Commitments for a Healthy Soul.

I came across Smith on an ordinary Sunday morning in service at my former church about a year and a half ago.  Because his message was a bit jarring, I remember a few details.  He spent some time talking about a theme of his book, The Lazarus Life.  As he began to speak, I became more and more alarmed.  I have since listened to him speak, and to other pastors speak about the themes of The Lazarus Life, and there is a consistency in the general message. 

I have come across a sample copy of parts of The Lazarus Life, online which reveals the thinking and direction of the book.  The companion study notes are often found on church websites as some churches are choosing to run through the book and guide as a series.  The messages I have heard in person or through online media parallel the book and companion study. 

The copyright page alone is very revealing, acknowledging the use of several versions of the bible including The Message by Eugene Peterson.  I have found this to be the main version Steven W. Smith uses when he is speaking, and it appears frequently in the book.  The differences are striking between this version and the ESV, KJV, NIV, or NASB versions I am familiar with in church settings.  One example I recently heard while listening to a presentation by Smith, and he used one of the Beatitudes to make a point.  This is also quoted in his book.  Comparing these interpretations can give insight to how different the MSG than other versions typically used. 

Matthew 5:3:

(MSG) “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.”

(KJV) “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

(NIV) “Blessed are the poor in spirit,  for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

(NASB) “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

(ESV) “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Interesting how consistent the other versions are on this one.  The Message presents it’s own meaning of Matthew 5:3.   The Message version also takes the focus inward and on the person reading.  Note the references to “you” in the verse. 

Steven W. Smith promotes and makes his living off of the concept of Spiritual Transformation.  His message is based on the account of Lazarus rising from the dead.  Sadly, when presenting the account, Smith changes things, he makes it something it’s not at all.  The account is recorded in John Chapter 11.   

 In reading  and then commenting on the account of Lazarus, which I heard live, Steven Smith focuses on what happens both before and after the raising of Lazarus.  He speaks of the amount of time Jesus lingered and did not visit the ill Lazarus.  Much is made of how Jesus could have come earlier.  This is turned into a call to solitude and silence, we must wait on Jesus.  It’s also used to express the concept that Jesus will not always show up in our difficult times.  When we ask, “where is God,” we can note that He sometimes lingers as He did with Lazarus.  Though it is true Jesus doesn’t always stop the cancer, the job loss, the death of a loved one…it is not true that He lingers and is not with us.  However, Smith spends much time focusing on this tarrying and also on our response, which is to wait and to listen.  He parallels this with times people spent “in the wilderness.” 

In my notes on a sermon of Smith’s, this is what he says about the time in the wilderness.  Note the verses used come from The Message:  “…”when life is heavy and hard to take go off by yourself, enter the silence, bow in prayer, don’t ask questions, wait for hope to appear.  Don’t run from trouble.  Take it full face.  The worst is never the worst.  Lamentations, do you know what that word means?  Lamentations means lamenting.  Lamentations…it’s almost as if you want to grab some of those words.  When life is heavy and hard to take, enter the silence.  Paul’s right there, don’t reach for your own demand button.  Silence has a way of reducing us, we can enter the silence and say, “what are you up to God.”  When we enter the silence our prayer just becomes “God what are you up to.”  Bow in prayer, that’s right, bow.  Bow because we must.  We don’t know the future, we don’t know what’s going to happen in our economy, I dont’ know what’s going to happen to my son in Iraq.  “You are God, I am not, I release my entitlement…and this is a hard one…don’t ask questions.”  Wait for hope to appear, don’t run from the trouble.  Dont’ run from the trouble and seek out another church.  Let’s deal with something.  May we in our own grave clothes ask to be free.  Don’t run from the trouble.”

Smith takes this Lamentations chapter, and uses it to begin teaching about contemplative prayer, introducing a congregation to “the silence.”  He uses it for individual problems, which are a big deal to each of us.  His son is in Iraq, this is very difficult for him.  He suggests we use Lamentations to encourage us in these difficulties.  If we have a problem, enter the silence, bow down in prayer, wait on the Lord.  See what God is up to. 

Let’s look at the verses he quotes in Lamentations again, through context and in different versions. 

The MSG Lamentations 3:28-30

”when life is heavy and hard to take go off by yourself, enter the silence, bow in prayer, don’t ask questions, wait for hope to appear.  Don’t run from trouble.  Take it full face.  The worst is never the worst.” 

NIV

Let him sit alone in silence,
 for the LORD has laid it on him.

Let him bury his face in the dust—
 there may yet be hope.

Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him,
and let him be filled with disgrace.

ESV Lamentations 3:28-30

 Let him sit alone in silence
   when it is laid on him;

 let him put his mouth in the dust—
   there may yet be hope;
 

let him give his cheek to the one who strikes,
  and let him be filled with insults.

As you can see, the versions have differences.  The NIV and ESV are not a huge contrast, but The Message really sounds like a completely different text.  It is important to use a good translation when teaching concepts to a congregation.   What is interesting is Smith neglects to give the entire context.  What is going on in this passage that the writer is so downcast?

This book, some think is written by Jeremiah, records great suffering in Jerusalem.  The city has sinned, turned away from God.  God lets loose His wrath, and also allows the city to be taken by it’s enemies.  This is not about only one man’s problems.  It’s not about cancer, it’s not about job loss.  It’s about the deep sorrow for a people who have sinned, and now are experiencing great suffering.  The people are showing who they are in this suffering, the mothers withholding food from their children, even to the point of “boiling” their young for food.  This is like the Holocaust, there is desolation and death everywhere.  No one is there to help. 

 Now, think, if a person witnesses his people suffering and knows it is because of sin and wrath, and if he himself is part of this suffering, wouldn’t the lament begin?  Wouldn’t the tears flow?  The writer talks of his teeth grinding in the dirt, he speaks of bowing way down into the dust.  He is shamed, he is insulted, he is nothing.  It is time to be silent, time to listen to God.  It is the only hope.  Only God will give any chance of salvation.  This is not about coping with problems, it is about repentance and begging for mercy.  It is about seeking God and showing true anguish, true mourning over sins. 

It is true that God is there and we can wait on him in our troubles, but to suggest this passage  is about waiting on God in silence when we have life’s troubles whether big or small is to misuse the passage.  To use it to place people into the dessert and go off on some contemplative prayer exercise to make life better is wrong. 

Smith misuses the entire account of Lazarus to make the story about the individual.  He even has titles in his book such as “I Am Lazarus:  Finding Ourselves in the Story” and “The Voice of Love:  Hearing the Savior Call You by Name.” 

On page 71 of The Lazarus Life:  Spiritual Transformation for Ordinary People Smith writes:

“In Jesus’ words to Lazarus, we hear the same Voice of Love that we can hear for ourselves today.  We learn through Lazarus that only love transforms a person—not power, not information, not effort.  We learn through Lazarus the beauty of listening to that love.  This is one of the greatest spiritual callings of our journey.”

and further:

“Hearing Jesus speak your name is the first step in emerging from the tomb and moving toward transformation.  Jesus speaks your name—not your friend’s, not your pastor’s not your teacher’s—when he invites you to “come forth” it is a personal invitation of love.” 

On page 72 Smith goes even further, 

“The crucial step of being transformed is learning to let yourself be loved.  Skip this step and transformation will not happen. ”

This all becomes about the individual person, their self esteem, recognizing a person is worthy of God’s love.  All of this from the account of Lazarus, from looking at our circumstances and comparing them to what was happening in Lamentations.  We are to be silent so we can “hear the voice of Jesus” call us out of the tomb. 

Basically, Steven Smith is saying in order to be transformed we have to accept that God loves us.  He says it like this on page 77: 
“Until we realize that Jesus is willing and able to come to our own tombs and speak words of love, we will live a lie.  In our churches we will stand and sing of God’s love and the life that Jesus offers, but inside we will stand alone in fear that He may not call our name out as He called the name of Lazarus.  This kind of  lie robs us of the life Jesus wants for us—a life in which we enjoy the love of a God who would do anything to free us.”

On pg 80 Smith quotes Henry Nouwen:

“Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection…Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved.” Being the Beloved expresses the core truth of our existence. (From Henri Nouwen’s book, Life of the Beloved)”

What is the actual point of the account of Christ raising Lazarus from the dead?  One need only look in the book of John to find why it was written. 

John 20:31 (ESV) “but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

Why does Steven W. Smith believe this account was written.  In his study guidebook called Living the Lazarus Life he takes the reader through visualizations and encourages Lectio Divina and other forms of contemplative prayer. 

 

Exercise on pg 45  “Read the passage slowly and reflect on these questions.  You may find it helpful to read this passage three or four times, pausing after each reading, to listen for a different aspect or emphasis or insight.”  The quote then has a footnote referencing Lectio Divina as a sacred reading and encouraging a slower, contemplative reading of the passage.  Two books are suggested….Smith’s own Embracing Soul Care and Too Deep for Words by Thelma Hall.  Smith even suggests to use Google to find web sites on the subject of Lectio Divina.

The first question encourages the reader to “ Imagine this scene.  What do you see? Hear? Feel? Smell?  Where do you see yourself in this story? (footnote) With whom do you most identify?  What do you imagine this man might have felt after such a long time of waiting?”  In the footnote it Smith explains further: “Engaging the senses is an ancient and important way of reading the scriptures.”  He then explains that Ignatius was one who helps “believers use all of their God-given senses to understand the truth of scriptures.”

Steven W. Smith uses biblical passages to assert that spiritual transformation requires our realization that God loves us, as an individual.  We must go through a time of silence, solitude, and prayer exercises in order to understand the scriptures, to hear God speaking to us, to heal our souls.  We are to place ourselves in the biblical accounts, use our imagination to put words in Christ’s mouth, and learn to cope with life’s problems.

This approach is disturbing.  The bible is used to put forth an agenda.  All the while, the focus is off God and what He has done, off Christ and his sacrifice, off our need for salvation due to our wretched sin.  It’s about learning to cope with problems, to learn methods for feeling closer to God, for learning to feel better about ourselves and that we are loved.  Much of the gospel is twisted or missing.  Much of the Christian life becomes a self examination. 

Self examination should lead to a realization of our sin, our need to repent, and the greatness of God.  Instead, it seems to me, Smith wants us to examine ourselves to learn we are something in God’s sight.  Yes, Jesus does love us, but are we to use this knowledge of his love to focus on ourselves?  Are we to visualize Him saying He loves us?  Are we to put words in His mouth and imagine His actions toward us in a biblical account?

More quotes to ponder from Smith….The Lazarus Life:

Pg. 76 “It was not until I knew myself to be the Beloved (capitalized in the book) of God—singled out as a soul-sick man in his forties—that I began to be transformed.” and  “The seed of transformation that took root in my life was this:  I had to learn to accept being accepted.  I had to be loved.” and on page 83:  “Silence and solitude became the tools of transformation for me to hear what my soul-sick soul needed to hear:  I am loved.  I am wanted.  I am the object of Jesus’ love.” Further on page 90:  “The ancient spiritual exercises also help us learn how to enter silence and be alone with ourselves.  There our aloneness is transformed to true solitude.  We find that we are at last at home with ourselves and experience peace with God.”

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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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Before we left our former church I began to feel frozen.  I learned all this information about spiritual formation, emergent, purpose driven and the P.E.A.C.E. plan (which was presented to our congregation several times).  I began to understand all the things we did in our church that we felt good for doing were related to some author’s plans.  Every philosophy, the way we taught our children on Sunday mornings, the way we studied in small groups, the service projects we did, the way scriptures had been presented and often interpreted, were run through a filter of the strategies/plans/vision of our former church.  Our thinking on missions, service to others, finances, parenting, had all been shaped by this church.  We also had been big supporters of groups such as Focus on the Family which has since been stepping into “spiritual formation.”  I thought at first that our former church had “just changed.”  Because they have sermon notes saved online, I realized that this was not the case.  The changes have been in place at least since 2002.  We’ve only been there since 2000, but the sermons are not recorded online, so I’m not sure how much deviation there is from those first days.  At any rate, we didn’t notice issues until 2008.  That’s 7 years at least of this spiritual formation/purpose driven/seeker friendly/tip toe emergent stuff getting on us.  Rubbing this stink off has been a challenge.  It’s got to be in our thinking, in our reasons why.  So now, I am frozen.  Christians are to share the gospel, make disciples.  But how?  Even before I went to our former church, I learned the “quick and dirty” gospel.  “All have sinned” and “for God so loved the World” and “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” and recieve him (because  a gift cannot be opened until recieved) and pray for forgiveness.  Say this prayer and boom, you are saved.  So now, I have to reevaluate.  I actually think my salvation wasn’t based on this, I did have an understanding that I was chosen by God and grace and mercy had nothing to do with a scripted prayer.  I’m confident in my salvation, sure of my guilt of sin, and know that I am only saved by the grace and mercy of Christ who died for me.  I really have always loved to read and dig into my bible, and loved to figure out exactly what scripture truly says and means.  This hasn’t changed, so reading my bible still gives me comfort.  Praying has been difficult for me lately though, knowing talk and teaching had been leading to possible contemplative style in our former church.  I talk to God directly, always  have.  I do not use any techniques like Lectio Divina as we hadn’t been lead through that yet.  Still, I struggle.  I have always thought that going off by myself and writing in a prayer journal is good (I would just write requests mostly in the journal, who I was praying for).  I would read scripture and summarize a bit for my own recall, then list my requests and people I’m praying for.  I also used to walk the neighborhood praying for people in the homes, for God to work in our city and eventually our nation.  I do long to be alone when praying, to be in nature, do actually find quiet to help out sometimes when I pray.  I do NOT empty my mind, believe you have to have solitude as a discipline.  But who hasn’t enjoyed praying outside in the early morning all alone while looking at something spectacular God has created?  Iwould not mistake this “feeling” for closeness to God or purity in Christian life, however, there is something nice about it.  However, I have been very cautious about what I do in prayer.   I no longer feel comfortable just praying.  I have to stop and think, “am I doing this wrong?”  Doing prayer wrong?  Yes, it’s possible to pray incorrectly, very possible.  Still, before I was just praying and not worrying about it all the time.  Same with service.  Before, I felt great helping clean up a school yard as part of a church project, or filling a box of toys for a child’s Christmas gift.  I realized that some service projects would not really be directly presenting the gospel, but it didn’t seem so bad.  Now, I wonder how much I would be part of some big agenda to “be a change agent.”  I don’t want to just sign up and have a wrong motive or give in the way God doesn’t prescribe.  So, I am frozen.  Which organizations aren’t tainted with the current emergent/new age/change the world through good works teachings?  Bell ringing for the Salvation Army?  Maybe not so good…they have some contemplative stuff on their web page.  Many old trusted places to serve or give seem to be turning contemplative.  What organizations can I have my children involved in?  We did Awana this year, and yet I saw some of their training for parents is “spiritual formation” style.  Though my kids have learned the verses, I fear eventually the teaching may grow suspect.  I have listened to the Cubbies teaching week after week, and so far have no problems with it.  Still, we’re thinking of stopping Awana.  We’d like to be involved in the church we choose to join, and are likely to find ways to teach verses without all that Awana brings (busy time).  Everywhere I go in Christian life, I feel frozen.  At least I know one thing, if I crack open my bible, I can trust scripture.  It’s the commentaries I worry about…

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shepherdministry

I wanted to post the curriculum as an example without our former church name on the link.  The above curriculum encourages “shepherds” to have children listen to a song while on the floor with socks off, and with lighted candles.  There are other things that disturb me like some questions that do not have any right answers.  Quite a problem.

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Just checked in on children’s ministry at my former church. The curriculum I helped teach just a few years ago is either getting progressively worse, or it was edited by the church and they aren’t doing it exactly as published on the web site…or I was blind to the weirdness. The last Sunday’s lesson included having the children relax, they could even recline on the floor and take off their shoes. The “shepherd” was to light candles and play a CD of “God So Loved the World” by Jackie Velasquez. We never did this. I recall playing the song and helping the children memorize the verse, but did not light candles and encourage the kids to lie on the floor. I am disturbed by the suggestion that “there is no right answer” to questions. Below is a cut and paste of the questions from the curriculum:

◆ How How much does God love you?
◆ Can you think of someone you love enough to sacrifice something for them?
◆ What is eternal life?
◆ What does Jesus tell us to do so we can live with him in heaven forever after
we die?
◆ What does it mean to believe in Jesus?

There is no right answer to “what does it mean to believe in Jesus?” Okay, so why spend the time talking about this? “What is eternal life” doesn’t have a right answer? Come on people. This is just downright foolish talk.

The suggestion for “large group worship” is to use wind chimes for a call to worship. When has this been a practice in church? I do not have a problem with candles and bells being used as I don’t think this is a sin. I do, however, think it’s not just for getting attention or for making the room pretty. There is a specific agenda, and it involves a specific mindset in teaching. The children are being prepped for meditation. They are being preened for contemplative prayer. I do know that bells are often used in eastern religious experiences. Not sure if it’s been so in Catholic churches. I just find it unfair that the parents are told this is “spiritual formation” and are not given an honest picture of what that means and where it’s going.

 The curriculum comes with this at the bottom:

Copyright © Vickie Bare. Printed

Workshop Zone® Rotation Sunday School Curriculum by Cook Communications

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I found this interview to be somewhat revealing.
http://www.renovare.org/invitation_christian_disciplines_and_grace.htm

I see the thought is that we can do something to grow in grace, that we can get somewhere to grace in spiritual disciplines. The claim is “the Christian disciplines as avenues to grace…” I thought Jesus Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

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Well, not bipolar, in the psychology sense, but in the sense of what is presented up front.  Today, there was a speaker in for the vacationing pastor.  The speaker shared a sermon basically on the definition of the gospel.  I believe he was spot on with his sermon.  He used Ephesians 2:1-10.

 “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience- among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.  But God, being rich in mercy,  because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses,  made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is  not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  not a result of works,  so that no one may boast.  For  we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand,  that we should walk in them.”

 

He stated his desire was to clearly tell what the gospel is.  He then spoke first of our depravity, our sin before we came to salvation.  Next  spoke of the gift of salvation, and that God gives it through faith in Christ, and not at all of works.  He then explained that our service beyond this is not works for salvation, but works that are also a gift of God to us.  We are given works but we desire to do them once saved.  However, we still have our sin nature, and we still have to deal with this.  The good news, then, comes after the bad news.  The bad news is before salvation we are sinners following the course of the world, following Satan, and following after our own fleshly desires.  In contrast to our sin nature, to our selfishness, there is a “but” which shows our vast difference to God.  But God, “being rich in mercy” and because of the “great love” for us even though we were dead in our sin…made us alive in Christ.  This contrast, this salvation from our death and our depth in sin is the gospel.  We are not saved by anything we do.  He hammered this point home though he speaks softly.  It was wonderful to hear, and he commented a couple of times that even long time Christians need to be reminded of the gospel.  In fact, he reminds himself daily.  Cannot remember the verse he quoted, it was in Romans…but he says he reminds himself daily. 

This man is not a preacher, but he is a professor at a local college.  He is a serious Christian.  He left our former church for issues such as someone on the board publishing attacks on Christians who believe in the literal 7 days of creation…and because of Rob Bell influence in the youth side of church.  He fought hard for a few years, was a young elder (ironic, isn’t it).  He is a quiet, gentle man, but is also willing to take a stand.  He and his family had to leave our former church.  Since the little church plant has very few people it seems there is not always another pastor available so they asked him to speak.  He spoke well. 

The worship leader, music leader, whatever he is called, really bothered me though today.  He did the usual set of songs, some seemed right on, others I could not sing, had to evaluate them a bit more.  In the middle of the “set” he suddenly said, “let’s just have silence for a bit.”  What?  Silence.  I just whispered to my husband, “why?”  My 8 year old son nervously laughed.  I don’t get this silence for no reason garbage.  Sure, it’s not going to reach out and make me into a meditating (in the eastern way) person.  Still, I believe the introduction of silence with no explaination is inappropriate.  I have to wonder if this is conditioning for contemplative.  Actually, I don’t wonder much at all, I believe it is conditioning for that.  This has happened at this church before.  This is one of the two we are considering.  I am trusting God to show us where to go, and my husband really likes this church because of the pastor and the couple who we basically “followed” to this church. 

More questions have to be answered.

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