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Posts Tagged ‘sin’

We Like Sheep

I’m starting to mull over people who attend church and how they follow after.  I admit, I’ve blindly followed at times.  I want to be lazy, I want to sit and relax.  I want to just eat and not study.   I clump with others at times, and this causes problems when I line up with the wrong crowd.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that people react and run.  If things are revealed to be wrong, we can leap wildly in the other direction.  In college, I recall a man who went from a charismatic style church group straight into Wicca, and then into another church group.  He jumped from one thing to another, or the guys I knew who jumped from a controlling group into the gay lifestyle.  But it doesn’t even have to be that extreme.  I mean, it can be that one might jump from one denomination to another, or from one leader to another.    It is easy to abandon one whole set of beliefs or people just because of some bad things/bad people and not really think about why.  I’ve done it, I’ve seen it.

I think the key is to remember that we people are sinners, our reactions can be prideful, can be sinful, even if we are right in realizing a bad church, a bad situation.  It is not wrong to point out the error, and to run from it.  When doing so though, I need to keep in mind where I am running to.  (this is not to say the church I am in is bad or that our family ran to something bad.  I don’t believe we have…just that it is very easy to react rather than to stop, pray, and think about things.  It is also easy to paint everything with a broad brush because I don’t see the whole picture).

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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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Uh, it is so hard to be a Christian at times.  It’s been a long three years of learning since we began to really pay attention to problems in our former church.  Last night we had a meeting with one of the pastors from the church we currently attend.  The pastor could tell based on what we said that we have many hurts from our former church.  He said something interesting, that someone had decided to leave this church recently.  The man stated, “I am leaving here, but these are the things I have gained from this church…”  It was a disagreement, to be sure, but it was also a list of ways God had used the church to help him grow.

I do think we did experience good things in our former church.  There was fellowship with other believers, there was some good teaching (a few pastors in particular).  We did have some great times in our small group, made life long family, life long friends.  We also did learn from some people who despite the church had a habit of studying the bible.  Some lacked discernment (obviously we did and by the grace of God began to realize there were problems, how otherwise I do not know…blind I tell ya).  At any rate, we did gain things, we did grow.

However, there was false teaching there.  Most people preaching/teaching it had no intention to teach falsehood.  They had bought into it and didn’t know.  I know we all have, at times, had an uneducated concept of one thing or another about Christ or salvation etc.  I do believe there are those who just make mistakes and haven’t studied and know no better.   There are others who are deceived and despite being taught truth, they are convinced this or that teaching is the truth and is better.  There are others blinded by their own pride, their own agenda.  I think our former church was (and likely still is) filled with some true believers, some believers who are mistaken, some who are deceived.  Then it also has many who think they are believers but aren’t because the teaching has led them astray.  Then there are those who have come in and are being appeased, but are not in the faith.  Every church has some of this, but not outright deception. 

I believe our former church doesn’t just have doctrines with which people can agree to disagree, and can debate about.  I do believe there is more to it, and that is where the hurt lies.  No matter how nice the lead pastor, no matter how much you believe he has good intentions, he is teaching falsehood.  Spiritual formation as it is taught in our former church seems to be works based.  All the “seeker friendly” stuff is about filling the pews, and misses the mark when teaching the gospel.   The preachers spent too much time off message, and that is where my pain can be found.  There are people still going there, and even if they are true believers, and even if there is some growth, I cannot help but believe it is stunted.

And yet, God can use a bad thing for good.  Beauty from ashes.

So there I go again, thinking of my former church and realizing how stupid we were.  We were blind, and it hurts.  It hurts when others cannot understand things, and do not see the false teaching for what it is and challenge it.  It hurts to know their kids are in the church and are buying it all, eating it all up.  And then they wonder why they leave the church and don’t ever come back?  What are they being offered?

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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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I saw this as a search that landed someone on my blog.  I do think that is an excellent question.  I believe it’s there are many reasons why church is so hard.

First, sin.  Obviously, people are sinners, I am a sinner, you are a sinner, and so we’re going to be hard to deal with.  The church is going to be imperfect.  People get their agendas and their behaviors, and it is hard to deal with them.  I am hard to deal with.  Do you know how many stupid thoughts I have while sitting in church?  How many times I look at someone and think things about what they are wearing or how they talk?  I have to constantly check myself.

Church is also hard because people are confused as to why we have church.  Though I believe it’s clear we are there to worship God and edify the body, everyone has expectations beyond this.  Some of our hopes are that we’ll get all our needs met in church.  Then we sit there and don’t express those needs to anyone, and exactly how can that happen?  We have expectations for people to be our friends.  We have expectations that we’ll feel a certain way at Christmas or on any given Sunday.  We have expectations that the pastor will do someone this way or that.  We forget our fallibility and don’t always understand what’s being taught.  There are basics churches should have, some do and some don’t, and when our expectations are not reached, we can be disappointed. 

Some churches are bad, period.  This is not just your ordinary sin of each human here, it’s churches that are unhealthy and destructive.  I used tbe an RA on campus in a dorm, and we had to watch for groups that came in with cult like tendencies.  They would manipulate and shut a person off from their families.  Girls were breaking up with long time boyfriends because the boyfriend didn’t join.  They were being drilled and harrassed by the cult members, never alone.  It’s not just obvious cults though, there is abuse in church, there is twisting of scripture, power struggle, control, pastors who cheat on their wives within their congregation, and many other things that happen to erode trust.  Evil is everywhere and will find it’s way right into the church, right into pulpits. 

Waiting, it’s hard waiting.  Those of us in God’s family are still waiting for the return of Christ.  This isn’t always easy.  Sure, we have been given the bible and are told how to live.  We can love our Lord and worship Him, and we can at times feel near because of the Holy Spirit.  However, we are not physically with Jesus.  We don’t see Him with our eyes.  We have to wait.   We meet together every Sunday, and each Sunday it’s another week we have to wait.  We get accustomed to this life, and sometimes even forget we’re not made only for this life.  We get immeshed in the struggles here, and the waiting and hope is on the back burner.  It can be a faith stretcher to wait.  We can become complacent. 

Persecution, that can make church very hard.  I am in the United States, so I don’t have the real persecution of my brothers and sisters around the world.  We have a shiny building, we have cars to get us there.  We have bibles, many of us have more bibles than people in our homes.  We are free to preach from the bible as it is written here (so far).  Sure, we may get teased by media or others who don’t believe, but real persecution?  We actually have to TRY to get persecuted by protesting an abortion clinic or by doing door to door missions or maybe setting up a Christmas display in public somewhere.  However, in some countries, to be a part of a church means death.  It means abuse.  It means the government and your neighbors are watching you.  It means services can be raided and you can go to jail.  It means if you are teaching the bible as written, you can be punished for a long time. 

Yes, my friends, church is hard.  But, I’d rather have the church than try hanging alone in the world.  Why?  Because I really believe in Christ, and so do others who are in the churches I’ve attended.  We are family.  We belong together.  We have to deal with sin, and we have to work on making it better together.  If it’s right, the preaching is good, the fellowship is good, the church can be a wonderful place.  If I am willing to reach out, if I am there to worship, there to join my fellow Christians, it can be very good.

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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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