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I haven’t updated this site in a long while, primarily because we’ve put our journey through “Charismania” behind us…for the most part.

Oh sure, from time to time my husband and I will reminisce about our years at Living Word Church (a pseudonym, as are all other names used here, except those of widely-known celebrity preachers).  We will joke about some of the more outrageous stuff we went through.  We will shake our heads and marvel at how we got sucked in.

But soon it will have been four years since we left Living Word, so as you might imagine, we’ve pretty much processed the obvious emotions.  We’ve thought through most of the things that were off-kilter about Living Word Church and the Smith family (Pastor Smith, his wife Mary, and their two young-adult sons) who ran Living Word and controlled it just like it was their family business.

Because I was pretty sure we were “over” everything, I was actually looking forward to a community event that required our attendance, an event that was coincidentally going to be held at Living Word Church.  I was eager to walk through the doors again and see if I’d feel any of the old feelings.  I wondered what memories would be stirred by something as basic as how the place smelled.  (Oddly enough – and I’m almost embarrassed to admit this – I always  thought that Living Word exuded a really alluring fragrance, almost like the whole place had been soaked in anointing oil.)

I wanted to see if the Smith family’s highly retouched portraits still graced the walls of the church lobby…I was curious if they’d added any new photos of the sons’ wives and the grandchildren who had been born since we left.

And I wondered if I’d somehow be able to flip through a copy of the magazine that Mary Smith had begun to publish a year or so ago.

Yes, you read that right.  Living Word Church’s “first lady” publishes her own women’s magazine.

We may be “over” our Living Word experience, and we may have moved on, but we still like to check the church’s website from time to time, just to see if anything has changed.  It’s been fun to keep tabs on various staffing changes, and to see which guest ministries they’ve continued to invite in to preach.

That’s where I first learned of Mary Smith’s magazine.  When it was first launched, it was heavily promoted on the church’s website.

From the beginning, I marveled at the concept.  A magazine seemed like a really ambitious undertaking, especially considering that Living Word Church really is not that big.  Although they like to call themselves a “megachurch,” attendance seems to hover at around the same level, with probably fewer than 1,000 people showing up on most Sundays.  Shortly after we left Living Word, they’d added an extra service on Sunday mornings while ditching their Sunday evening service.  But that move didn’t last.  After a couple of years, there apparently just wasn’t the demand for two Sunday morning services.  Judging from the videos broadcast online, it didn’t even look like they were filling the 1,500-seat auditorium to capacity (or even close) for ONE service.

So I wondered at the idea of a ladies’ magazine which would have such a small distribution.  From the church’s website, it didn’t look like it was a skinny little pamphlet or brochure.  The magazine instead appeared to be quite a hefty glossy book.  Who does that sort of thing?  Who puts out a semi-quarterly magazine – complete with the First Lady’s photo gracing each cover, like she’s Oprah or something – for an audience of maybe (at best) a thousand readers?

Although the website showed that they were charging $5 per copy, it still seemed like a money-losing endeavor.  Knowing the hugely expensive photographer the First Lady always uses – the one who charges $300 per hour to retouch photos – and knowing that nothing at Living Word is ever done halfway, I could only imagine what a money pit a 50-page (or so) magazine must be. 

Plus, I wondered about its sustainability.  During our years at Living Word Church, Mary Smith had a pattern of starting programs with great fanfare, only to watch them quickly burn out.  Lots of classes and activities would happen once or twice and then would just quietly go away with ZERO explanation (sort of like how there never seemed to be a word mentioned about bringing back the second Sunday morning service).  The First Lady would set the bar so high for herself, with such crazily demanding and exacting standards, such over-the-top expectations, that it was almost a given that nothing she did ever lasted.  Even the constantly touted “Mary Events” – those grossly indulgent special women’s meetings, with their elaborate decorations, expensive door prizes, pricey tickets, and stressed-out decorating committee of women who sniped and snapped at each other, all in the name of ministry – didn’t happen that often, following no set schedule at all.  About the only “Mary Event” that took place with any predictable regularity was the Christmas Tea (with tickets priced at upwards of $20 apiece), and even that has quietly gone by the wayside over the past couple of years.

So how in the world would Mary Smith be able to sustain a women’s magazine, especially one that appeared to be so ambitious?

I was curious, too, about what would be in such a magazine.  With all the publications out there already geared toward women – even Christian women – what would be the point of yet another periodical containing the usual drivel about fashion, cooking, relationships, and decorating?  What could Mary Smith’s Living Word minions find to say that would be so unique and necessary that it would warrant going to so much effort and expense?

Since the first issue of Mary Smith’s magazine made its debut, my husband and I had been joking about how I could get my hands on a copy.  We figured we were too recognizable to just show up at church some Sunday night, stroll into the bookstore, and buy one anonymously.  Besides, we would never go to that much trouble just to satisfy my idle curiosity.  And I certainly wasn’t going to order one through the church website, either.  I wouldn’t want anyone on staff to think I’m still as interested as I am in the goings-on of what had always been (in my experience) such a shallow-minded yet haughty attempt at women’s ministries.  Not to mention, I wouldn’t want to get my name and address back on the church’s main mailing list.

But this community event – now there might be an opportunity to at least surreptitiously flip through a copy before hastily putting it back on the rack (or table, or wherever I might find one left lying about).

As we drove into Living Word Church’s parking lot the other day, I actually found myself feeling a bit jittery and sick.  Truly, the place is that laden with memories for me.  During our years at Living Word, it was quite literally the number one priority of our lives.  Just about any time the church doors were open, we’d be there.  We would schedule vacations around Sundays, so that we could miss as few church services as possible.  Also, because I had gotten my involvement with Living Word all tangled up in my thinking with my Christian faith itself, I frequently confused promoting Living Word with sharing the gospel of Jesus.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’m actually ashamed now to look back on all the times when I’d start out trying to “share Christ” but then quickly end up talking about how, “If you REALLY want to experience REAL Christianity, you’ve GOT to go to my church and hear my pastor!”

Ugh.

For at least the first couple of years we were members of Living Word, I sincerely believed that there was something very special about what went on there – that there was something unique and unsurpassable about Living Word and Pastor Smith that could not be duplicated anywhere else.  I believed that Living Word (and Pastor Smith) almost held some sort of magic, where if someone would only walk through the doors of that church, they would be overcome by the power of God and would experience a dramatic change, the same kind of change that I thought I’d experienced.  I was convinced that the man (Pastor Smith) and the place (the church building, particularly the sanctuary) were “conduits of the anointing,” as Pastor Smith himself would often say.  I thought that any problem people faced could be solved miraculously if I could just get them to come to my church and have Pastor Smith lay hands on them.

So the church facility itself has always held a certain level of mystique for me.  And as we drove into the parking lot, I found myself feeling the same giddy anticipation that I used to feel when we arrived at church ready to “partake of the anointing.”

I was surprised by how little things have changed.  The Smith family’s same portrait – taken at least  6 or 7 years ago – still graces the main hallway.  The ladies’ restroom is actually looking a little run-down and shabby, in need of new stall doors and some updated paint (that flowery mural is looking awfully 90s!).  The Smiths used to frequently mention Mary’s hangup about church restrooms, and the priority she placed on making the Living Word ladies’ room a beautiful and luxurious place because her standards were so much higher than those of other churches.  I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe the fact that she has her own private restroom in her office has prevented her from noticing how beat-up the Nordstrom-style wooden stall doors are looking, and how the place would no longer strike most women as being particularly nice or special.

I was disappointed to note that Living Word Church no longer smells like it used to.  Maybe they quit using the same fragrant anointing oils, or maybe time has just taken its toll, but it didn’t exude the same aroma at all.

In one way, I was almost glad that I didn’t have to smell that smell that used to hold such meaning for me.  Walking through the doors of Living Word Church was an experience akin to running into an old boyfriend, a boyfriend who had broken my heart with pretenses and false promises and outright lies.

I decided to do a bit of roaming around while we waited for the event to begin.  And that’s when I noticed that the door to the church bookstore was open.  The lights were off – the bookstore was clearly closed – but the door was open.  I walked over and poked my head in the doorway and took a good look around.

My eyes quickly caught sight of the magazine rack full of the five issues of Mary Smith’s magazine.  I could see them against the wall, just a scant 10 or so feet away from the doorway where I was standing.  Oh how I wished I dared walk across the threshold and grab one, just to satisfy my now-raging curiosity!

That’s when I suddenly thought to myself, “Well, it’s now or never.”  My foot, almost of its own accord, took a tentative step toward the magazine rack.

And at that very moment, I suddenly heard a voice over my shoulder.  Startled, I turned to see none other than the church facilities manager, a man I’ll call Lin Jackson.  Lin had known my husband and me for years.  He and I had spoken many times.  We’d worked on various “Mary Events” together.

“May I help you?” Lin Jackson asked.

I was busted.

[to be continued…]

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One of the strangest (and most unbiblical) things about our particular experience with “Charismania” was the odd dynamic that swirled around the pastors of Living Word Church (a pseudonym, as are most other names on this website).  Within the world that they’d created inside the walls of Living Word, the Smith family – Pastor Smith, his wife Mary, and their two young-adult sons, Timmy and Tommy – were treated like royalty. 

We’d come to Living Word Church after a lifetime spent in more mainstream Bible-based churches, where it was a given that pastors were supposed to be unassuming “servant leaders.”   So when we first arrived at Living Word, we were oblivious to the aura of celebrity that surrounded the Smiths. 

It took awhile for us to fall in line and acclimate ourselves to Living Word’s hierarchy, but eventually we learned how things were.  And despite how we always KNEW, at some level, that the Smith family’s belief in their own importance was completely unbiblical and inappropriate, we soon found ourselves going right along with the crowd who swirled around them, vying for their attention and approval.  It really did not take very long for it to seem almost NORMAL to us that there was an entire “ministry” built around providing security for the Smith family as they walked around the church building.  Or that it was considered a HIGH HONOR to open the door of Pastor Smith’s $85,000 Mercedes as his handlers hustled him out of the building and into his car.

Eventually, we realized that the people who were the closest to the Smith family – ESPECIALLY the people who handled the most mundane details of their lives – exhibited a real attitude about their proximity to the Smiths. 

I happened to be reading a random website – a website about a subject that on the surface has nothing to do with the world of “Charismania” – when I came across a really amazing comment that describes to a “T” the dynamic that was at work at Living Word Church.  I want to post that comment here, as I believe it provides a good summary of the attitudes at work within many independent “Charismaniac” churches, not just Living Word.

Here is the comment, by “Cindy K” (who has her own website here):

I would completely discount this as true if I had not heard and seen these things in the shepherding movement (the charismatic movement that got started about the same time that Bill Gothard started to get cranked up in the mid to late ’60s). We had a close friend at one time who was on the list to have the privilege of washing Bob Mumford’s car. The more holiness you have and the more submissive you are, the more deeply you can penetrate into the inner circle of leaders and the more intimate duties you are permitted to perform for them. So scrubbing the toilet for Bob Mumford is a far higher and more lofty duty than just washing the car. I actually talked on the phone with someone who left a sister church of my group whose father actually got to pick Bob Mumford up at the airport.

This is all a very big part of submission teaching, and in terms of this aspect and dynamic, Gothard and Mumford and some of these patriocentrists ascribe to the same mindset.  Gothard teaches that if you want to have your own vision, the way to make that grow comes through serving others in their mission. So the more humble you are, the more grace you get (like God puts money in an account or you get grace warm fuzzies to counter all those sin cooties).  The more selfless you are in your service, the more benefit you gain.  If you are asked to wipe someone’s bum because they are too lazy to do it themselves or if they are actually taking pleasure in the fact that they can get you to do it, this is a test of your virtue.  Submission, submission, submission.  It is seen as an act of piety that builds your character in a direct cause and effect manner. 

But what’s interesting is that no one is interested in scrubbing the toilet of the aging, obese woman who had a stroke and drools, who is seated in the back row and when she comes for prayer or to ask for critical help is patted on the head and told to be warmed, filled and to go in peace.  The ministry efforts are directed primarily toward the elders and leaders in a group, because it is a type of validation and reinforcement of your own importance.  Consider that this is like a drug, because you are in an environment of comparison as well as one where shame is used to motivate.  It is more satisfying than a glass of cool water on the hottest summer day because it medicated the pains of comparison and shame.

People in these groups are overridden with shame, and gaining the favor of the elite is a most powerful neurochemical drug.  It also feeds pride, because you are more special than the other people who can’t even get on the waiting list to wash the car, let alone scrub the toilet.  But sometimes, if there is a favorite of the group, one that the group can hold up a non-normative they would like people to minister to – a pet project.  Because it is seen as a virtue and is counted as virtuous by the leadership, attending to the particular non-normative who has been set apart by the leaders will also earn you bonus points with them. 

They ALWAYS have their favorites.  You might not get to wash the car of the leader, but you might be able to get on the list to wash the car of their pet project.  And think about it.  They have set themselves up in a hierarchy and established themselves as the visionaries who speak for God and discern His thoughts in ways that normal people cannot even begin to attain.  Where would we be without Doug Phillips? We would have no one championing the family and the world would be a sad, sad place.  If you want more than anything to honor and serve God in all the wonder and fullness that you can dream of, this is alluring. 

If you believe their press, they hold out this fantasy for you.  They create it with smoke and mirrors, and if you want that fantasy, there it is.  You might not get to experience the awesome power and holiness and greatness of God, but you can perhaps glean something from the crumbs that fall from God’s table of greatness.  I’ve heard people describe this as like unto those sick who took strips of Paul’s clothing to the sick so that the power of the Holy Spirit that remained on the cloth would heal them.  [Charismania here:  I want to point out that Living Word Church actually did have what they called an “Anointing and Handkerchief Service” each year, where they would distribute “anointed” hankies and vials of oil that had been prayed over by Pastor Smith and other guest speakers.  Living Word Church actually had that passage from the book of Acts – the passage that describes how strips of Paul’s clothing were distributed for healing – printed on the hankies.  Also, I myself  once wrote a post about a funny thing that happened to us during the final prayer line during that “Handkerchief Service.”  These things dovetail perfectly with what Cindy K is saying in this comment!]  You might have a Holy Ghost experience by washing the very car that Bob Mumford actually touched and sat in.  You might get a Holy Ghost jolt when you scrub the…

Don’t forget that Gothard teaches this.  To have vision you must first experience the death of a vision, and then you work toward your vision by serving someone else in their vision.  When God finds you faithful and you earn enough grace points and warm fuzzies, you win the prize – you get your own vision, and volunteers will in turn come to serve you as you aspire toward your very own vision. 

This is all Gothard.  It was all over Shepherding.  It is a twist on being faithful over little so that God will make you faithful over your own greatness.  By serving others greatness, God will eventually make you great.  It’s all part of the formula.

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My exit out of Living Word Church (a pseudonym), and Charismania in general, for that matter, was prompted by a handful of what Oprah Winfrey would call “Aha!” moments.  One of those moments, ironically, was born out of a friendship, probably the only true friendship I had at Living Word. 

Living Word Church was NOT a place where it was easy to connect with others.  During the years we attended, there were no “Adult Bible Fellowships” (aka “Sunday school classes”).  There were no small-group Bible studies where discussion was encouraged.  They did have a system of church-organized social groups, called “Care Groups” (now changed to “Life Groups”), but the groups rarely met, and when they did, the get-togethers were often painfully awkward meetings of strangers with next to nothing in common.  

Incidentally, something I always found fascinating is how just about every decent conversation among Living Word folks seemed to end up focused on Pastor Smith (another pseudonym) or the story of how one came to be a member of Living Word.  Seriously.  I can remember attending at least three different Living Word get-togethers where there was little but stiff small talk, until someone mentioned something about Pastor Smith.  Suddenly, everyone in the room came alive and began participating in the conversation. 

Much later, I realized that this was exactly the way Pastor Smith liked things to be.  He and his family were the focal point of Living Word Church, and you’d better not forget it.  To ensure that you wouldn’t forget, you could feast your eyes on large portraits of the Smith family plastered prominently in the church lobby.  You could watch people during praise and worship time, prior to the Smiths’ grand entrance on the stage, and feel the level of anticipation for Pastor Smith’s arrival.  If Smith wasn’t going to be there on a particular Sunday, they’d rarely announce that ahead of time, because they knew how few people would actually still show up. 

So in this very Pastor Smith-centric atmosphere, I considered my friendship with two ladies, middle-aged never-married sisters who typically sat in the same area of the sanctuary as we did, a real treasure.  What started because of conversations struck up during long periods of waiting for the church services to begin eventually grew into a deep, heart-to-heart friendship.  

One of the sisters – I’ll call her “Jean” – became an especially close friend.  She and I would always have a wonderful time when we’d talk on the phone or meet for lunch.  Although we shared interests in more mundane things, our conversations also often touched on our deepest spiritual struggles, hopes, and dreams.  Jean and I frequently shared with each other what we were praying about, the things in our lives that we wanted to change, and where we thought God was leading us.  

In retrospect, it seems almost funny that it was one of those conversations that ultimately sent me down the path of questioning just about everything we’d been taught at Living Word.  During the time we were involved with the church, I probably would have said that the one thing that made us less than content with Living Word was the lack of ways to truly fellowship with other believers.  I always felt uncomfortable with the extreme focus on the Smith family and earnestly wished I had more friends like Jean.  

I never would have guessed that Jean would play a role in our leaving. 

Not long after we first became friends, Jean revealed to me something that even at that time struck me as a bit unreal.  In the early days of our involvement at Living Word, I honestly felt like a whole new world had been opened for me.  After a lifetime of a Bible-based faith rooted firmly in reality, where normal human disappointments still might lurk around every corner, I was suddenly introduced to a Christian life that talked about “dreaming big,” about “having favor,” about “taking the limits off.”  After years of knowing that Christians should not love money, should not place too much importance on “things of this world,” and should not put their hopes in earthly riches, we were suddenly thrust into a world where it was OK – indeed, it was merely a sign of God’s blessing – to drive a luxury car and dream for a huge house.  In fact, it was God’s will for us to have those things.  

So when Jean told me that God had given her and her sister an amazing vision and had also told them that it was going to come to pass, I had mixed feelings when she revealed exactly what that dream was.  On the one hand, we were fed a steady diet of, “The sky’s the limit!” from Living Word’s pulpit.  Nothing is impossible with God…it’s God’s will for you to have the desires of your heart…we are more than conquerors through Christ…God wants us to prosper and be in good health… 

Who was I to tell anyone that their dream was too far-fetched for God to turn into reality?  God could do anything! 

And yet…

Well, when it came right down to what the sisters’ dream actually WAS, I ran into huge roadblocks in my thinking. 

They totally and sincerely believed that God had told them they would both soon retire from their secretarial jobs, come into $53 million, and establish a “hospitality house” where they would play hostess to the visiting ministers whom Living Word brought in on occasion to speak to the church.  They already even had selected their exact mansion – in one of the finest communities of luxury homes that this area affords.  Like, they already knew WHICH HOUSE God had shown them that He was going to give them.

They also believed that God had told them that they were going to experience supernatural weight loss – that one day in the near future, Pastor Smith would give an altar call for those who wanted to lose weight, and when they’d go forward for this altar call, a miracle would happen and weight would instantly drop off their bodies, to the point where they’d start losing their clothes as they’d make their way back to their seats. 

In other words, the sisters believed that someday soon, they’d be both wealthy and slim, even though currently their paychecks only afforded them life’s necessities…they had saved NOTHING for retirement, neither of them had health insurance, and they were still living in their mother’s basement…and even though they had absolutely no plans to change their eating and exercise habits. 

I know it might seem silly to those of you who have never been engulfed in the “Charismaniac” mindset, but I did not immediately dismiss the sisters’ beliefs about their future.  I felt conflicted about them, actually.  On the one hand, the part of me that still had my feet planted somewhere near reality would inwardly shake my head and marvel that they could put so much stock in what they thought that “God told them.”  I mean, although Pastor Smith frequently delivered vague but very positive prophecies over lots of folks in Living Word’s audience, he’d never pulled out either sister for a personal “word.”  They didn’t even have one of Pastor Smith’s prophecies to fall back on.  All they had was their confidence in their own prophetic dreams, visions, and ability to “hear God’s voice.” 

I often thought, even as I was growing to love the gals and enjoy our friendship more and more, that they were setting themselves up for a huge disappointment every time they would strain their meager finances to “sow a seed” into Living Word Church or ministries like Benny Hinn’s.  I cringed on their behalf when, right before offering time one Sunday night, Jean whispered to me that although they’d finally saved enough money to buy themselves new mattresses, they felt that God had told them to give the entire amount to the church instead.  Her trembling hand was clutching a white offering envelope, which she proceeded to bring down to the waiting ushers holding the offering buckets at the front of the church.  

Even then – and this was in the midst of my highest love and loyalty for Living Word – I was greatly troubled at the thought of Jean and her sister sleeping on broken-down beds for several more years while the Smiths barely batted an eye at spending $29,000 per year on floral arrangements and “needed” a new $80,000 Mercedes to replace their perfectly respectable 5-year-old model. 

Yet…well, on the other hand, I never could bring myself to completely discount the sisters’ belief in their dream.  After all, who was I to question their faith?  At the time, I myself was “believing God for something” that probably would have seemed quite far-fetched to other people.  

For at least awhile, I made a sort of uneasy peace with the two parts of my thinking.  To be honest, I was motivated by more than a little selfishness.  My reasoning went something like this:  if I did not honor the sisters’ dream – the object of THEIR faith – then why should anybody, God Himself included, honor MY dream and answer MY prayers? 

I never quite lost the sense, though, that there was a missing link in the sisters’ (actually, the whole church’s, mine included) theology.  I realize – again – that this might not make sense to anyone who hasn’t been engulfed in Charismania, but we’d listen to sermon after sermon from Pastor Smith about faith, about believing God for our dreams, about how our “destiny” was always  just about to be fulfilled.  I’d say at least nine Sundays out of ten, the terms “destiny,” “dreams,” “visions,” and “favor” would figure prominently in Pastor Smith’s preaching.  And always, he’d seem to have plenty of Bible verses to back up his assurances to us.  Despite all the years of solid Bible training I’d had and the many college theology courses I’d taken, I could never really pinpoint what – if anything – was wrong with Pastor Smith’s messages.  

The truth was, I actually WANTED Living Word’s teachings – the same teachings that buoyed up my friends’ commitment to their mansion and their future instantaneous weight loss – to be true.  Church had become an extremely positive, uplifting experience for me.  I thoroughly enjoyed hearing, week after week, how God had a great destiny in store for me, and how my dreams would all be fulfilled.  Just like the two sisters, I myself was hoping and praying every day for a specific outcome, and I did not want to lose what I thought were the theological underpinnings for believing that I would eventually get what I wanted. 

Ultimately, though, I finally concluded that since I could never reconcile the God of the Bible with the sisters’ vision, I had to rethink almost everything we’d been taught about God’s “obligation” to answer our prayers and fulfill our dreams.  I had to go back to the Bible alone, and I had to ask the hard questions about whether or not all the “dream talk” was consistent with God’s character and wisdom, as He has revealed those things to us in the Bible. 

When we finally made the painful decision to leave Living Word, it was due in part to the fact that I could never fully and honestly get behind my friends and cheer them on, even though I really wanted to out of my deep affection for them.  I finally acknowledged what I’d always still known deep down:  that the God of the Bible was not likely to give my friends such a dream and “tell them” that they were going to stumble upon $53 million.  I knew that the God of the Bible was not likely to melt pounds off of them during a five-minute altar call.  I knew that the God of the Bible – as He has revealed Himself to us through books like Proverbs – was not likely to promote a lifestyle that never planned for the future, never even tried to save for retirement. 

I recently stumbled upon a book review by Bob DeWaay, in which he discusses this very subject.  While Pastor Smith never cited this particular book (Prayer Quest, by Dee Duke) in any of his sermons, the book is apparently based upon the exact same principles we were taught at Living Word Chuch.  DeWaay articulates far better than I ever could the faulty theology behind Charismania’s extreme focus on “dreams” and “visions.”  I know this blog post is already quite long, but I’d encourage everybody to read the excerpt below.  I’ve put what I considered the key paragraph in bold. 

Bob DeWaay’s Book Review of Dee Duke’s Prayer Quest 

The subtitle to this book is “Breaking through to your God-given dreams and destiny.” Duke speaks of our dreams and God’s dreams throughout his book. In the Bible God gave dreams to certain people. Those dreams, if interpreted by an infallible prophet, revealed God’s will and God plans. In the Bible, the dreams were from God, but they were not God’s dreams. They were the dreams of the people who dreamt them (for example Nebuchadnezzar’s in Daniel 2). Here we have to add a point of clarification: Only the dreams that are interpreted in the Bible by God’s prophets and spokespersons can be considered to authoritatively reveal God’s will. 

The term “dream” in English can mean “hope for an ideal future,” as in, “I have a dream.” This denotes the hope for some better state of affairs that may or may not come into existence. Duke, in his book, is clearly not using the term in the Biblical sense as a dream a person has that has been interpreted by an authoritative prophet. Instead he says, “He calls us now to dream His dreams, to ask Him daily to display His power.  Duke is speaking of a hoped for future when he uses the term “dream”: 

“Welcome to the reality where dreams come true! God has a dream, and it is certain to happen just as He imagines it. He has placed the stamp of His image on our souls, so that we also dream great dreams. As we learn to passionately share and enjoy God’s dreams, we will see Him work in amazing ways . . .” 

This statement involves some serious category problems. Supposedly God’s dream is His imagination about the future. We (all humans evidently because all humans are created in God’s image) can dream like God. Either this is anthropomorphism run amok or some seriously bad theology. God is the one who says this about Himself: “Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure‘” (Isaiah 46:9, 10). God does not dream, He decrees. God calls things into being and works all things according to the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11). He doesn’t imagine a potential future that may or may not happen. 

Concerning us, the only thing we know about what God “dreams” (using Duke’s terminology) is what is revealed in Scripture. Our own dreams about what we would like the future to bring are not going to make God do anything. Duke says, “This book is intended to help you learn to walk so intimately with God that you will see Him fulfill His dreams in and through you.” This brings us back to the typical “prayer secret” genre of Christian writing. Supposedly there is some key to “intimacy with God” that is not based on the once-for-all finished work of Christ, not based on availing ourselves of the means of grace by faith, but based on our own level of personal piety and the use of practices not revealed in the Bible. 

Duke asks his readers, “Do you feel as though you’ve given up on dreams you had when your faith was new?” The implication is that our “dreams” (i.e., hopes for an ideal or optimal future) somehow authoritatively reveal God’s will and that we must make these come to pass by some process. But our ideas about what we hope life will be like are nothing more than ideas and may have nothing to do with God’s purposes. Our dreams are part of providence, but providence contains good and evil. Duke is treating personal imaginations about the future as if they were infallible guidance to be nurtured and followed. But personal dreams are not God’s moral law. 

Here is a further definition of what Duke means by “dream,” 

“A dream is a desire felt so strongly that we think and meditate on it constantly until we see it in our mind as clearly as if it were reality. A dream believes that what is desired will happen; it is accomplished by anticipation and positive expectation. People who dream tend to be upbeat and enthusiastic.” 

This is a very much the type of mind over matter thinking that has enjoyed popularity in self-help circles. 

He gives people some practical guidance on releasing their “imagination” in prayer: “Envision yourself embarking on a day trip into the presence of God. . . . Envision yourself approaching God in His glory.” 

This is strikingly similar to guided imagery. He gives more examples of how to manage your dream time with God, including making lists of dream notes. This is a journey into the subjective realm under the guise of “prayer.” 

Much bad teaching comes into the church by route of mysticism, subjectivism, and having faulty theological categories. In previous articles I carefully defined categories to help my readers avoid these pitfalls. Risking redundancy, I must again assert that there is God’s revealed will in Scripture as well as God’s providential will (containing good and evil) that is revealed as history unfolds. Though Duke wants us to dream God’s dreams about the future, he admits that these dreams we might have come from various sources. He lists thoughts from God, your own thoughts, thoughts from the world, and thoughts from Satan. His readers are supposed to sort through their dream notes to find ones that they think are from God. But how? God’s future providential will is not revealed and cannot be known until it unfolds in history. Our dreams about the future cannot be determined to be from God by any means available to us because they are not revealed in Scripture. 

Duke reveals his lack of Biblical understanding when he cites the scripture, “My sheep know my voice,” as proof that we can figure out which of our dreams is God’s voice. That passage in John 10 is about those whom the Father has given to the Son and who consequently will respond to the gospel and follow Christ, not about listening to various subjective voices in our heads and trying to figure out which one sounds the most like Christ. 

There is no need to belabor how bad this book is theologically. It starts from a series of faulty premises and bad theology and builds from there a concept of prayer that is not taught in the Bible. The term “dream” as he uses it is basically the idea of one’s imagination. The Bible tells us about those who speak in this manner: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are prophesying to you. They are leading you into futility; They speak a vision of their own imagination, Not from the mouth of the Lord‘”. (Jeremiah 23:16).

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Below is an article – about a church in Denver.  This is not “Pastor Smith”, but there are very close similarities. Notice the Multi-Level Marketing tie?  Hmmmm…..

The original article can be found here: http://www.denverpost.com/search/ci_4459571

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In previous blog entries here, we’ve described various incidents and teachings that pushed us to leave what we’ve now come to see as our cult-like, “Charismaniac” church (which I’m going to call “Living Word Church” for today’s article, although that is NOT the real name of our former church).

I wrote awhile back about one particular service at Living Word Church, where Pastor Smith gave a “prophetic word” about how blessed all of us were going to be, and then as I watched all the people dancing around like whirling dervishes while the music played faster and faster, it was like a cold hand gripped my heart and a voice spoke into my thoughts, “Would they be this excited if the ‘word’ had been that each of them was going to lead three people to Christ this week?” And when, instantly, I knew that the answer to that question would be “No,” I had a sudden jolt that something about our church was SERIOUSLY wrong.

There was also the less important—but no less unbiblical—little oddity of how Living Word showed favoritism to the wealthy by saving them the best seats in the sanctuary.

Then there were the personal prophecies spoken over us by Pastor Smith. Most of those were vague enough not to be “testable,” but the single one that contained specific details failed to come to pass. We experienced a great deal of internal conflict as we dealt with the reality of this inaccurate “prophecy.” For awhile, we felt like something was wrong with us, because we kept hearing other church members and Smith himself touting what a “true prophet” Smith was, even while we KNEW that on at least one occasion, he’d completely missed it.

All of these things played a part in the process of how we decided we had to leave Living Word Church. But you know how Oprah has coined the term, an “Aha!” moment? Well, we might have continued at Living Word indefinitely if it hadn’t been for one particular such “Aha!” moment.

At Living Word Church, we were “Care Group” leaders. That’s a whole other subject for a whole other article, but to explain briefly here, our job as Care Group leaders was to help a small group of folks (who’d been assigned to our leadership) to feel connected to the church through phone calls and get-togethers.

Before we were asked to be Care Group leaders, we’d heard stories about how well Living Word treated its Care Group leaders. We’d heard about special social functions that Pastor Smith and First Lady Smith would put on for these leaders. In fact, one particular such get-together involved the church’s renting out the nearby movie theatre for a private showing of the movie Seabiscuit.

So last Christmas, although it probably SHOULD have struck us as odd, we weren’t terribly surprised when we received in the mail a Christmas gift from the church. They’d sent us a gift catalog, from which we were entitled to order any one of about fifty items. These items were not just little trinkets but were pretty expensive, especially considering that the church had sent these catalogs to all 60+ Care Group leaders. I figured out that the retail value of these gifts was probably around $100 apiece. Do the math. That’s over $6,000 the church spent on Christmas gifts for those in leadership.

But since I’m not one to look a gift catalog in the mouth, I quickly logged on to the website mentioned in the booklet, and I ordered the item we chose, which was a Cuisinart blender.

Just as I was about to toss the catalog in the trash, I happened to give it a closer look. Suddenly, I noticed something.

On the back page, it said, “Copyright 2006 Quixtar.” Somehow, the name “Quixtar” rang a bell.

A quick Google search later, I realized something very significant, which was that Living Word Church had at least some connection to the Amway Corporation.

Although we’d never been part of Amway, I had more vague recollections of horror stories I’d heard about Amway and what a loser business it was, basically a multi-level marketing scheme disguised as a “business opportunity.” So I did more poking around. And that’s when I stumbled upon an online book about one guy’s experiences with Amway.  [Note:  this is a huge pdf, so click at your own discretion.] At first, his story wasn’t that earth-shattering, but the more that I read, the more unsettled I became, because you see, I grew to realize that the culture of our church has many, MANY similarities to the way that Amway does business.

In fact, there were SO MANY similarities that I began to think it couldn’t possibly be accidental.

The way the book described how Amway leaders were treated—lavished with respect, NEVER questioned, waited on and practically worshiped as though they were celebrities—could have been talking about the way people treated Pastor Smith, his wife, and more recently, his two young-adult sons and THEIR wives. There was absolutely no difference.

Moreover, many other aspects of the Amway culture were identical to that at Living Word Church. For instance, Amway people had an obsession with presenting a “together,” well-groomed, prosperous appearance. Appearances were HUGELY important at Living Word.

Also, Amway people are fond of the verse, “Without vision, the people perish,” because how you envision your success is how well you will do in the Amway business. Pastor Smith was very fond of quoting that same verse, only he used it to direct attention toward his own gift of prophecy.

Another thing that was weirdly similar between Amway and Living Word was the protocol for their meetings. The main speakers/leaders at an Amway meeting would arrive late, after the crowd had been revved into a cheering frenzy. That was exactly what Pastor and Mary Smith did—they never made their grand entrance until a good strong 20 minutes into the praise and worship time. Once the Amway meetings were underway, the audience was urged to cheer and support everything the speakers said. That was exactly what Living Word Church did.

As the Amway book’s author said, that kind of audience participation does two things. It creates an atmosphere where emotions are hyped and one can find oneself going along with the crowd and setting aside one’s natural inhibitions. And then it also gives a lot of credibility to the meeting’s message. If one sees all these well-dressed, seemingly successful professionals cheering their wild support for the message and the leader, one can’t help but think, “Well, if it’s OK for them and if they buy into it, then all my misgivings must just be wrong.”

Another similarity is, Amway leaders carefully cultivated loyalty, by rewarding the people below them with special privileges. These privileges—reserved, preferred seating at events, for instance—were doled out judiciously. So was recognition. The Smiths did that exact same thing. And there was something about the way they lauded and honored their most faithful members that made you begin to strive for that same level of attention and approval.

In the book about Amway, the author described the top leader, a man by the name of Zack. One of the things that Zack did was to take on the role of main father figure to his followers. This was done by design and done deliberately. When I reached this point in the book, I was appalled, because Pastor Smith had seemed to try to do that exact same thing. In fact, he’d recently preached a weird series of sermons focusing on the verse, “For you have many teachers, but only one spiritual father.” Although he never actually spelled it out in so many words, everything he said led up to the idea that he was our spiritual father. I can remember leaving those services feeling really strange about these messages. I tried to set aside my discomfort, but it just struck me as not the sort of thing a normal pastor would say to a normal congregation. Yet Smith had the crowd cheering their approval as usual.

The leaders at the top of the Amway heap also led lives of luxury. The Amway book describes Zack’s Mercedes and mansion and custom-made suits. That paragraph could have been lifted, word for word, to describe Pastor Smith.

Another thing was how Amway leaders, by how they responded to questions about “the Business,” subtly and indirectly conditioned the people at the bottom to say only positive things about their leadership and not to question ANYTHING that leadership says or does. That exact same rule, in the exact same unspoken fashion, was in operation at Living Word Church. If a person were to be so foolish or uninformed to ask a question that seemed to indicate doubt about the Smiths or appeared to call into question something that was going on there, that person would immediately be treated to the cold shoulder.

As a matter of fact, the previous Christmas, I’d experienced this firsthand. A gal named Annie White—who apparently had the job of being Pastor Mary Smith’s mouthpiece—wrote me an email, asking me for some feedback about what the decorating sessions for the Christmas ladies’ event had been like, and what I thought needed to change.

Under the impression that she actually wanted my honest opinion, I spent several hours carefully crafting my response. To read it now, almost two years later, is actually painful to me, because my observations about the cat-fights, the sniping, the ridiculous perfectionistic frenzies that went on, were all SO watered down. In that email, I literally sound AFRAID as I try to describe everything. I felt the need to spend several paragraphs talking about what a WONDERFUL teacher Mary Smith is, how great her ladies’ events always are, how beautiful they end up being…how I would NEVER want to say anything negative…but, since Annie had asked…

I oh-so-gently describe, in vague terms, how certain attitudes seem to prevent the newer helpers from feeling accepted. I make a few mild suggestions about how we might go about making it better. Then I end the email with even more blather about how I’d NEVER want to be ANYTHING but an encouragement to Mary Smith, blah blah blah…

Reading it now, my excruciatingly respectful and worshipful attitude, my palpable fear of offending Mary and her inner circle, are NAUSEATING. But at the time, I was almost sick to my stomach with nervousness when I clicked “Send.” I was really curious what Annie would say.  I wondered if—indeed, I had naïvely optimistic hopes that—maybe some of my suggestions (which were as basic as, perhaps we could all introduce ourselves before getting started setting tables, and perhaps we could pray together that everything would go smoothly) would actually be implemented.

Well, after about a week, I quit holding my breath every time I checked my email. Annie never responded. When I saw her at church, she was still nice, but she never said a word about my email. Wondering if she’d even received it at all, I finally asked her, a couple of weeks later, if she’d gotten it, and she then replied, with a strange reserve in her tone, that she had. And that was it.

When the next ladies’ event was announced some months later, I was rather surprised that I hadn’t already heard anything about it, seeing as I had always been asked to help with the decorations and how they usually scheduled their decorating sessions before they officially announced the events. But I never did receive a phone call from one of Mary Smith’s minions.

The event came and went, and it was only then that my thickheaded self realized that I’d been removed from the decoration committee. The message was clear: even if you’re asked, NEVER say anything negative about your upline!

I spent a lot of time pondering these overwhelming similarities between Amway and Living Word Church. I’d already known that MANY Amway people attended Living Word. For whatever reason, Living Word made the multi-level marketing-type personality feel comfortable there. I also then remembered how Dan and Sue, a couple we’d become acquainted with because we tended to sit near them every Sunday, had told the rather vague story of how they themselves had begun attending Living Word Church several years earlier.

It had involved how they’d gone to a “business meeting” and Dan’s knee had been healed while one of the speakers was talking. That same speaker was going to be at Living Word Church shortly thereafter, so they’d gone to Living Word to hear him.  That was how they were introduced to the church.

I can remember asking Dan and Sue what “business meeting” would have what must have been a “faith healer” for a speaker, and that was when they rather reluctantly mentioned Amway.

So, apparently, Living Word Church also shared speakers with Amway!

In just the relatively small group of Living Word Church members of our acquaintance, I could count at least a half-dozen families who had some connection to Amway. Very likely, there were many more Amway folks among the crowd we didn’t know.

Certainly, the very fact that the church had bought over 60 Quixtar/Amway gift catalogs to give to the Care group leaders for Christmas was an indicator of a relationship somewhere. Someone on staff must be a Quixtar distributor and must have profited off the sale of those catalogs.

At any rate, now that I was fully aware of how many Amway strategies were also in use at Living Word Church, I tried to make sense of what I’d learned.

In other words, what did it MEAN, to discover that Living Word Church employed the same tactics as a multi-level marketing (and many would say cultlike and destructive) company?

I found I just had to know more. I had to find out if there were some sort of connection between Amway and Living Word Church, something that perhaps I could document.

I began to read everything I could find online about Amway. Basically, NONE of it was good! Aside from the official Amway/Quixtar websites and some rather sadly optimistic websites run by new Amway distributors who still hoped to make it big through the company, everything I read seemed to indicate that Amway/Quixtar was indeed a multi-level marketing scheme that exploited its victims’ greed and desires for independence and a better family life.

Through mind-control tactics like those listed above (and others, such as coercing their “independent distributors” to listen to hundreds of motivational tapes to keep the Amway message foremost in their minds), the few people at the top of the Amway food chain lived large and profited off of tape sales, while everybody else lived off of false hope.

I was disgusted by how Amway exploited people and kept them mired in the organization through empty promises. And the more I learned, the more I could see virtually no difference in Amway’s tactics and promises and what Living Word Church did to its members.

The only distinction, actually, that I could point to with certainty was that Pastor Smith preached the Bible and Jesus. But as I’ve already discussed, Pastor Smith’s “gospel” was actually quite different from the Gospel of the Bible. It was, actually, the exact same “gospel” that Amway promoted—the “gospel” of prosperity, of money. Only at least Amway was somewhat more honest and didn’t hide behind the Bible.

Discovering this “Amway Connection” was the catalyst—our “Aha!” moment—that finally forced us to see that we needed to leave Living Word Church.

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