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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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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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I remember all the altar calls in the Nazarene church when I was young and living with an aunt and uncle.  They’d have a message, they’d have the songs over and over again, people would go up to the altar as the pastor said, “just one more moment, Jesus is waiting…”  I went up many times.  I recall one time as my conversion moment.  I really do believe I did trust Christ and was saved, though I will say I’m not sure it was a moment in time so much as something the Holy Spirit did in me.  I was already a kid who believed in Jesus and had some understanding of Him and what He did as well as in my sin and how much I needed Him as my Savior.  I did pray often, did think of Christ being with me all the time.  I had a child’s understanding, and I must say my faith was strong.  I needed my faith to be this way when I was a child, I had it hard (I know many of us do…and many have it harder than I ever did).  I was shuffled from family to family, house to house.  I was abused by my aunt and uncle, and yes, wire hangers do hurt and leave welts.   Still, I believed and prayed to Jesus daily,  was convicted of my sins and frequently prayed for forgiveness.  I was pretty humble as a child as I think back.  Through moves into different households, through step parents and divorce, through it all, I knew I was saved.  So, how to share this with others?  I did get some opportunity to tell others about Christ as a teenager.  I recall speaking with a girl who was very depressed, I went with her to lunch instead of church actually.  I had been going to church in my small town and they had small bible study groups in homes before service.  She was there and had expressed some scary statements, cannot remember exactly what.  I spoke with her and prayed, I think.  I don’t know if she ever expressed faith in God, but I feel I did the right thing that day. 

In college, I was in Navigators.  I learned the bridge illustration.  Basically, you draw two sides of a canyon with a wide seperation.  Man is on one side, and God on the other (represented by the words “man” and “God.”  We were taught to use verses like, “the wages of sin is death” and those which show the seperation from God.  Then, you draw the cross as a bridge.  There are verses like John 3:16 and others showing that you must believe and receive (the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord).  You can ask the person where they are on this bridge…are they far, far away on their side of the canyone?  Have they taken any steps to being close to the bride?  Do they believe but maybe haven’t received?  Somewhere in there is an opportunity to pray, and ask forgiveness for sins. 

I tried this immediately my freshman year on a friend of mine from high school that was visiting.  I told her about heaven and hell, we talked about her place on the bridge.  I ended up scaring her to death, she thought I was in a cult, and she NEVER came back to visit me.  It wasn’t that I told her some deep truth, I gave her the fly by gospel really.  Then I pressured her. 

I don’t know how to evangelize properly, really.  My best experiences have been in just being friends with people, and writing online.  People have read my journal elsewhere and some argue and are offended, others are inspired.  I’ve had some “try” Christianity.  I have presented my life and often have written songs and scriptures I like.  I have shared experiences in miscarriage, job loss, friendship issues (without names) and church issues.  I have wrestled with topics of faith.  All of this just dumped in my online journal.  My joys with my kids, my struggles as a mom.  I try to encourage friends and other Christians in their walk.  I try to serve when I see a need.  I try to be a friend, to be a decent neighbor, and to live my life well hopefully in God’s sight though I know I fail.  I have given to missions when I felt I could. I have talked to agnostic/nominal church goers in my family about my faith, and I have taught my children as best I know how.  I know it’s likely I have still failed to do all I need to, all that I should to show I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.  I learned bad methods to begin with, and find that some of evangelism is about how you live, some is about just being faithful to the God I love and serve, and some is about serving others with out complaint.  Much is about teaching my children well, and being ready when people ask questions or get into conversations about faith.  It’s also about being willing to make the most of the opportunities God gives.  I think it’s important to share your life with others so they can see God working in you, and it’s also important to know God’s word in scripture when talking or writing to others so His gospel can be presented accurately. 

Beyond this, I do not know anything more for me to do.  Maybe God will convict me otherwise, but for now, this is all I know.

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Today, my church got together (and some others) and we sang for the woman who is dying of cancer.  She’s off treatments, so she’s actually temporarily feeling better…but she’ll eventually have the cancer take over or her ruined bowels (from the treatments) will give out…or an infection will win.  She has been given 2-8 weeks to live.  We sang several very tradtional old hymns such as “It is Well,” “How Great Thou Art,” “My Jesus I Love Thee,” “Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow” and many more.  We recorded this for her as she cannot come to church anymore for worship.  The time was a worship set, and it was to honor God.  She doesn’t want us to sing to her, but to God so she can have that exerience of being with the body in worship.  I so hope it blesses her in these days.  My littlest decided she was going to fuss and fidget, so we went in the hallway for part of the time (no one would have wanted to hear a toddler crying MAAAAMAAAA in between several songs), but I was able to sneak back in for a bit longer.  We then were able to leave her a message on tape, so she could be encouraged.  If there was more to do, I would do it.  We have provided meals for the husband and daughters each week, and helped the family move things from a storage shed.  Still, we cannot take away their pain, cannot make mom live longer.  In light of that, singing and recording it for her was a way to make the most of the time that is left.  I really like how this church loves this little family and has served in their time of need.  This is the body….

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We have realized many people in the church we now attend used to go to our former church.  One such family attended when some of my little ones were in Awana at the former church.  L was the Cubbies game time leader, and he always made it fun for my children.  J was the song leader (I don’t remember if she was in Cubbies, but she did it with older kids).  J also helped with children’s choirs and likely in other areas.  Both are serious about their faith in Christ and about raising their children in a Christian environment.  They left a few years ago.  I have since learned some of the issues for them involved their children.  They wanted a sound Biblical foundation and it just wasn’t quite there at the former church.  You have to actually go to a church with a good Biblical teaching sometimes to see the difference, and they say they have.  J is not only a servant to children in the church, she also is a public school teacher.  The children adore her, she’s a wonderful teacher.  

 J has leukemia.  It’s been a battle, and L says J hasn’t been able to attend church since Mother’s Day last year.  She’s had ups and downs, and the doctors have fought for her.  The family has gone out of it’s way to also not expose her to germs, sometimes not visiting her for fear of making her ill.  They have taken every precaution possible.  Now J is loosing her battle and has been given a few weeks to a few months to live.  Her body is fighting with host cells, and it’s caused damage to her bowels.  They stopped treatment, and of course the cancer cells are showing in tests.  The doctors are now at “we cannot do anything but keep her comfortable.”

The family has been visiting J and spending all the time with her they can.  So far she is actually feeling a bit better given that treatments have stopped, but this will not be for long and better is relative to how terrible she felt before.  The prayer L passed on is for the girls, that they will not weaken in their faith in the Lord because of this.  I have no doubt actually that they will be okay, but it’s his prayer.  I also pray for the family that they will have great times in the last weeks ahead.  If God would provide a miracle, wonderful!  We can pray for that.  However, if He decides to go ahead and allow J to die, I pray for her family and their adjustment to seperation from such a great mother and Christian woman.

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We left our church because we saw emergent creeping in. We were unsure if we were on target at first, but now I have no doubt we were right. Sometimes it’s a conversation with friends still attending, sometimes we pop into someone who left months or years ago. At any rate, the things that some say were “lies from the pit of hell” that came from our mouths are ever more proving to have not been lies.

My advice, if you have any strange little feelings that your church is “off” on biblical teaching in any way is to go to the leadership and ask questions. Be wise in how you ask, think, study, pray, pray pray. Ask them what books they recommend. Ask them what speakers they are listening to. Ask them what conferences they plan to attend. Ask their opinion about different books. Ask them what they know about this or that topic. Ask their favorite passages in scripture. Ask, ask, ask. Then, you can begin to challenge. Challenge on what they say at the pulpit, challenge on what they read, who they listen to, who they quote. If a pastor is following Christ, they likely will appreciate information that is helpful. If not, you’re going to go through a bit of trial. Pray for your friends but don’t burn bridges with them. You never know who will see what you are seeing, and who else is asking. Things are not what they seem. You might think someone is against you, but unless you hear it from their lips…or from the lips of someone you trust…don’t assume they are in agreement with the wrong teachings in your church. If you can find an ally, grab hold of them. Always pray. Offer to pray for your pastors, and really do it. Offer to pray with others who have the same doubts you do. It’s possible God may spare your church from ruin. You never know. Do what is best.

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by Okie Preacher
Discernment can be a very frustrating gift. You see the problem, the false teaching and un-scriptural behavior, yet others don’t. Thank God He has shown you the truth so you can:

a. pray
b. gently counsel and correct
c. if all else fails, leave that which is becoming increasingly false

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