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Posts Tagged ‘forgiveness’

There is a cost to intermingling with pagans and atheists you don’t really know, it can hurt.  I have kept an online blog for years originally starting it with the intent to witness to others.  It started with an interest in an art project a teenager had done.  It was a stunning piece, made the papers, and I began a search for the art.  I found her online blog.  I began to read stories of her life, her daily thoughts.  It was shocking to me to see the world of teens.  I came from a small town and had sheltered myself really.  I was a goody two shoes so to speak, and though I did see some bad things in my young life, I had not intended to see these things, I had not sought them out.  This teen was involved with a man older than she, and her friends were wild.  They lived in an art underworld, their parents often approved, but some had no idea.  They dabbled in drugs, sex with multiple partners, parties, and the like.  They ran their own lives, and were extreme in what they did.  They also interacted with me, a Christian, for a while.  Soon, they grew bored and angry with me.  I represented a stupidity they didn’t want anything to do with.  I was banned from several blogs as a troll.  I had attempted to witness, and it appears I failed. 

Through friends of friends on the blog, I began going back and forth with a man who is agnostic/atheist.  He created his own symbol for his non-religion (or maybe it is a secularism/humanism so actually a type of religious system).  He began a sort of religious think tank blog where people could make a point and it could be picked apart by others.    No one just accepted anything a Christian or even a theist of any type would say.  It was all fairy tales to most of them.  There were times when the discussion was interesting, but was it helpful?  Some people came in as Christians and fought hard, some made fools of themselves.  There were hateful jokes and angry statements made by pagans and atheists alike, but to be truthful, there were some claiming Christ who did not speak kindly.  Did anyone really change?  Not really.  I made the attempt to reach out as a believer in Christ, shared what I could, and eventully the postings died down on the page from everyone.  I do think the agnostic/atheist did respect me in some way, but that was not my goal in any way. 

A few people popped into my life from communities formed on the blog.  A few have actually been online “friends” for ten years now.  They have even followed me over to my facebook page.  One man works in his community, lived without a car for years, and has not been attending a local church.  He became a Christian a few years after I met him.  His focus in his posts is on the simple things in life, and on scripture.  He reads his bible daily.  He avoids churches I believe becaue everything he’s been to has been seeker friendly or some other sort of weakened/false gospel.  He fellowships mostly with those he knows online.  Only recently did he get a vehicle, and he began in Genesis once again.  I consider him to be a brother in Christ, and see how he’s grown in the last few years.

One more woman has remained.  There was a community that began as a Christian discussion area, and she began posting there.  Initially, we got off to a bad start, and began to argue online.  We stuck it out though, and she’s been in contact with me for about 10 years.  When I was banned from the teenager’s pages, she was there to tell me they were idiots.  She lives a very sad life, it seems she cannot get a leg up.   Her parents are mean to her, she’s an adult, but makes bad choices.  She has had bad relationships with men, and she is generally depressed.  She also escapes with alcohol at times.  She’s gone to psychologists and they have labeled her with a mild mental illness.  She’s moody, opinionated, and often lashes out if you step on her toes.  I have a few times, and I’ve been put out of her life for a while.  Usually, it’s when I post about abortion.  She’s had two abortions and was with a man in a bad relationship.  She’s wounded, she gets hurt and angry when I mention abortion.  Recently, I began posting a lot of pro-life videos and links on my facebook as a reaction to the doctor who had been doing murders on babies after being born alive in his “botched” abortions.  He had also killed a woman, so now he is seen as evil by more than just pro-lifers.  Well, my long time online friend reacted with anger.  She thanked me for opening up old wounds and making her feel like, well, to put it less sharply, like dung.  All because I posted links on my facebook.  Links that showed survivors of abortions or clever comments about how those for abortions are all born now…just like those for slavery in America weren’t slaves.   I had not even thought of her when I posted, and had not intended to bring up bad memories.  Fact is though, she doesn’t feel guilt because I posted these things.  She doesn’t feel depression and torment because of anything anyone else has done.  She is tormented, depressed, and feels terrible about herself because she’s being confronted face to face with the consequences of her sin.  She says she worries what religious people (she used colorful curse words) think of her, what I think of her.  I do not think she is anything but a sinner.  I am a sinner too, but I am saved by grace and I trust Christ because He drew me for some reason I cannot explain.  I am NO better than she is, but I am better off as I see it.  I know how to ask for forgiveness. 

My online friend blames actions like mine for her rejection of the church, for her rejection of Christ.  The fact is, her own sin is what keeps her from God.  Her own blindness and hardened heart.  For some reason, the Father broke through mine.  I pray for my online friend (who really is seperated from me by a great chasm, but I have had a shot to share the gospel with her).  I cannot fellowship with her, I cannot be yolked with her, and it makes me sad that I cannot do anything to save her.  And yet, I know that I am also free in this truth.  It’s only up to me to be an ambassador for Christ.  I may not do it in the perfect way, I may not really help anyone, but I am glad I care about this woman.  I pray for her because I believe I am supposed to.  I know I am not good at this, I also know I just have to keep doing the best I can.

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For a week or so some of the people I really enjoy reading and listening to entered into a conflict with one another.  I spent time confused, and also contacted both parties.  They are both busy people with busy online lives as well as having full time offline lives.  Both have been strong in discernment ministries.  I am not as confused, and have decided that there may possibly be error on the part of both individuals.  I refuse to “take sides” but instead am observing and figuring out what is going on.  I am not wise, and am not perfect.  I am sinful, a worm, a needy sinful worm.  I am just a regular mom and Christian out here.  My time is precious to me, and spending time reading and listening to radio shows to benefit my education on biblical issues and discernment is getting mucked up with this thing.  But that doesn’t matter, I can and should always look to Christ first, not to men and women.  You see, whatever wrong that is happening I can commit, I can easily do myself.  Even if there is not a sin involved, any thing I perceive or just imagine may be happening, I could do myself. 

It is my understanding that the parties have been in contact with one another.  It is also my understanding that there is not a resolution, it may mean one of the two is wrong, is disobedient to God in their actions.  It’s not about being loving because attempting to pull a brother or sister in Christ away from error is a deep love.  Speaking the truth is love.  I pray that even if I do not ever figure out who is right or wrong, that God will be glorified.  I will also hope that I do not sin in this situation any further than I already have in thought or deed. 

It hurts to see people who were once on the same side line up against each other.  I believe there is a good reason and God will allow the truth to prevail.  Christ will prevail.

On another note, a friend of mine has discovered she has breast cancer.  She’s young (33) and has 5 children.  She spent two nights last week talking to me…both nights were all nighters for me.  This doesn’t help me homeschool and get things done.  I don’t want to neglect my family, and yet know I needed to be there for her on the days I was able to.  She will find out more this week.  If you read this please pray for her.  She’s scared as her kids will likely end up in a public school though she has deep convictions she should homeschool.  She also has been told she’s bipolar, and has been taking medication.  She is repetative in this extreme situation, telling people the same thing over and over again.  I spent over 4 hours one night listening to her repeat the same story over and over again…maybe 2-3 times an hour.  She is not handling things in a way others can understand.  It’s hard to know what to do for her.  I pray, I listen, that is all I can do right now.

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I hate my sin.  I love God.  I know I am saved by grace through faith.  I cannot wait until I do not have this flesh.   Even when I am better than I was, there’s always some “not so bad” sin still there, slapping me in the face, reminding me that I am a stupid human.  After new baby and tired body, and with too much time on my computer rather than doing what I should be doing, I find I can loose my temper.  I yelled at my husband (who by the way is not the type to deserve being yelled at!).  I said things without really thinking and let my own mouth just go.  What is the sense in that?  Blah, I don’t like myself and the sin that I wish never ever happened.  These days it’s my mouth!  I’m glad my husband forgives, and ever more glad I have forgiveness in Christ.  Still hurts to know I still sin against Him even with what I do know.

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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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Unworthy
I come to Thee
a wretched case
lost in the mire
of my disgrace
for all my shame
I hide my face
I’m unworthy
unworthy
Friend of sinners
be my friend
and comfort me
I’m unworthy
unworthy
Hope of the hopeless
be my hope
and rescue me…
by Christianlady

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I don’t know why, but I still feel a very soft spot in my heart for one particular pastor on staff at my former church. He was like an uncle or something in my mind. I had the utmost respect for him, he was very humble when he spoke. He came across with such compassion. I felt the challenge to act our our faith was a genuine call to do good works to please God. I really do. I do not feel he had a bad intention in his body. He did rely heavily on Rick Warren’s material for much of what he presented in the plan for the church, and knowing what I do now about how scripture was not rightly handled by Rick Warren, I am sad. I know this former pastor saw all these wonderful opportunities to plant churches all over the world. He really has the touch with people. Really does. However, he is in error in endorsing and even promoting Warren’s work. Warren definitely does use the most convenient interpretation of scripture to make his cases, and misquotes or chops scripture up to take his readers where he wants to. Don’t agree with this, and so I believe a great man who is a pastor that has a natural draw is leading people to follow Warren’s plans and could be used more effectively somewhere else…if only he saw the problem. I think a man who doesn’t like conflict (at least it seems so) would never listen to someone who has created it by being bold (namely, well, me). I also think he would never be convinced by online Discernment Ministry. He would need something I am not exactly aware of to convince him of his error. Also, he was starting to bring out some of the bigger guns before we left, and delving deep into missional. Getting sort of dreamy with his speaking. He had a medical problem on a missions trip which affected his brain, so people who think he’s said things in a strange way blame his “trippy” speaking on that. I doubt the medical issues have anything to do with it.

I do think that Paul Washer and others bring up some very good points in that we are NOT worthy at all, we are such terrible sinners. My former pastor, who I have cried over, made similar points in that he would challenge people to get off their seats and actually serve others in the name of Christ. I think we can agree as Christians in the need to always be willing to serve. Just don’t forget to share the gospel and point to Christ in your service. It’s a dramatic testimony to say to someone, “I am a selfish sinner, and therefore would not ever serve you…but Christ loved me and died for my sins….I need Him. Because He saved me I now can love and serve. Sure, I might have served before, maybe. But I now serve because I was served, love because I am loved. I do unto others because of my Savior. It’s a complete message when we serve and share that because of Christ I can serve in love.

I wonder if I will go too far in my critique of my former church? I believe it’s possible I will sin in pride (or have) and in anger. I believe I can be neutralized because of my focus on the sin of leadership. I don’t think everyone should stop watching, or even that I should stop. I just need to always keep things in perspective. If not for Christ, I would be nothing. I am nothing. I am a wretch and even in being right about something, I can easily fall into my wretched ways. Easily.

I really do love my former pastor and if I am right about what I have seen, I wish he would see it for himself. He is the one man that if he did see it, would openly speak from the pulpit and ask his congregation for forgiveness. If he did speak, many would open their eyes and repent.

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poem i wrote long ago…and cannot find it’s text so I’m trying to remember…and this may be the best thing as I’ll be more free to revise…

Unworthy

I come to you

a wretched case

lost in the mire

of my disgrace

for all my shame

I hide my face

I’m unworthy

unworthy

Friend of sinners

by my friend

and comfort me

I’m unworthy

unworthy

Hope of the hopeless

be my hope

and rescue me.

 

Somewhere in there I should ask forgiveness.  Work in progress, I guess…

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