Spiritual Fathers: Dead and Alive

Spiritual Fathers: Dead and Alive

I am writing to you, fathers,because you know him who is from the beginning. 1 John 2:13,14 ESV

Since the month of June is Fathers Day month,  I'm thinking about spiritual fathers.   I've been blessed to have some.  My life has been forever enriched by being "spiritually fathered" by these people of God.

So this month, I would like to share a few of them with you. But first, let's think together about "spiritual fathering."

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Mentoring Gone Awry

He must increase, but I must decrease.John 3:30 ESV

Have you had a mentor, a spiritual father or mother? Do you have one now?

spiritual fathers
spiritual fathers

I have had a few.  For the most part, they were godly, sincere, vulnerable believers who shared the Lord freely and in a spiritually healthy way.  But recently, I have been shocked by one of my long term "fathers."

Because of our differences in interpretation of several passages of Scripture, he totally cut off fellowship with me, wanting no further contact.  This aging saint had said that he was "shocked, disappointed, and somewhat traumatized" by my "rejection" of his interpretation.

To say the least, I was shocked that a mature believer would handle differences in minor points this way.  But I've found that I am not alone. In fact, two of my friends have experienced the exact same kind of thing for the same reason.

So how does spiritual fathering/mentoring go awry?  Is it control? Insecurity? Pride?

As one of my friends aptly said of his own rift with his mentor,

The main issue [was] no freedom to disagree. My journey with Jesus couldn't progress without absolute freedom to follow wherever He led.  My dear mentor required uniformity of thought/belief which is unhealthy. --Rennes Bowers

Since I am at the stage of maturity where I have the honor of coming alongside other believers, I want to learn from all of this. And maybe you do too, whether you are a mentor or being mentored!

Well, there is good news! There is a gem of a spiritual father tucked away in the gospels, one of my heroes of the faith, John the Baptist!  He shows us what a true "spiritual father" is like.

Take a few moments and read through chapters 1 and 3 of the gospel of John to see...

john the baptist pointing
john the baptist pointing

Spiritual Fathering at its best

I have observed three things about John:

1. John knew who Jesus was.

John was Jesus' cousin, yet John didn't really know who Jesus was until the Holy Spirit revealed directly to John,

Then John testified, “I saw the Holy Spirit descending like a dove from heaven and resting upon him. I didn’t know he was the one, but when God sent me to baptize with water, he told me, ‘The one on whom you see the Spirit descend and rest is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I saw this happen to Jesus, so I testify that he is the Chosen One of God. John 1:32-34

Once John knew Jesus as the Messiah, he was totally "all in."  Even though a prophet is without honor in his own country, John's cousin Jesus had the priority and honor due Him.  Look at some of what John knew through divine revelation about the Lord Jesus:

Jesus is the Light ...the One who is coming, who ranks ahead of him, because He was before him ...the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world ...the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit ...Christ the Messiah, ...the Bridegroom who has the bride ...the One who comes from heaven and is above all ...the One who speaks God's words ...The One who has the Spirit without measure

The Lord Jesus Christ and all he knew about Him was what John focused on and proclaimed. John heard from the Father about Jesus the Promised One, and then John spoke from that continuous revelation.

2. John knew who he was.

John had no delusions of grandeur. When asked by the priests and Levites sent from the Pharisees who he was, John right away responded,

I am not the Christ!

Who then?

I love John's response,

I am the voice of one crying out:  'Make a straight road in the desert for the Lord.'

John knew he was a voice, unworthy to untie the sandal of the One coming after him.  His job was to testify to the Light that was coming into the world. John was a witness. That was his role, and he knew it and embraced it.

3. John never confused the two.

I am amazed at how John never deviated from his focus, despite the fact that his disciples were leaving him to follow Jesus.  He had no "Messiah complex," so to speak.  He freely released his followers, pointing them toward the Christ.

I love the imagery John used when he described himself as the "friend of the bridegroom who rejoiced at the bridegroom's voice."  He knew Jesus to be the Bridegroom who has the bride.  So John's joy was complete to point the way to Him!

As John so beautifully stated,

He must increase, I must decrease!

walking with jesus
walking with jesus

What can we learn?

Whether we are the mentors or the ones being mentored (even by messages we read and hear), we need to keep these truths in the forefront of our minds:

1. The Lord Jesus Christ is All!

As John knew, Jesus Christ is the Light, the Promised One, the Savior of the world.  He is the Bridegroom who has the bride (the "church," believers, the body of  Christ). He is the Sum of all Spiritual Things, as our brother Watchman Nee so aptly put!

2. We are all His!

All of us believers have the indwelling Christ through the Holy Spirit...from the youngest believer in the Lord to the most mature saint of God.

And like John, we each have a role to play.  God opens the way so that we can serve others in a unique way and be served by others in the body of Christ in Jesus' name.

And so, as the Lord spoke to my heart many years ago,

Respect the Holy Spirit in yourself and other believers...even young ones!

3. A healthy detachment characterizes healthy believers, young and old!

Each of us individually can learn to hear and follow the Lord day by day. Jesus Himself said,

My sheep hear [keep on hearing] my voice and I know them and they follow [and keep on following] ME! John 10:27

We can encourage each other to do that very thing, releasing our brothers and sisters to follow HIM even when their path may be different from our own.  John the Baptist did this well, didn't he?

Our own freedom to follow and our giving that freedom to others is at the heart of spiritual growth. As Andrew Murray said of abiding in Christ,

...independent of all else, because dependent on Jesus. Abide in Christ

Lord, Thank you for the brothers and sisters you have placed strategically in my life. They have loved me and taught me about you and your ways. Teach me to release others to You in Your name. You are our All and in all! Amen.

Remember your leaders who taught you the word of God. Think of all the good that has come from their lives, and follow the example of their faith. Hebrews 13:7 NLT

Spiritual Fathers: Dead and Alive

I am writing to you, fathers,because you know him who is from the beginning. 1 John 2:13,14 ESV

Since the month of June is Fathers Day month,  I'm thinking about spiritual fathers.   I've been blessed to have some.  My life has been forever enriched by being "spiritually fathered" by these people of God.

So this month, I would like to share a few of them with you. But first, let's think together about "spiritual fathering."

In his first letter, the fatherly aged apostle John penned a tenderhearted passage on the growth stages in a believer's life.  He describes for us spiritual childhood, then young adulthood, and finally fatherhood:

I am writing to you, little children, because your sins are forgiven for his name's sake.I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning.I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one.I write to you, children, because you know the Father.I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning.I write to you, young men, because you are strong,and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.1 John 2:12-14 ESV

Did you notice that he repeats two times the exact same description of the "father stage" of spiritual growth?

"...you know Him who has been from the beginning."

"You know GOD in His pure Person...the great I AM, the Burning Bush God, Jehovah!"  Nothing else is needed...nothing else distracts.  There's a total focus on the Ever-Present God and what HE is doing...especially in the lives of people.

return of the prodigal
return of the prodigal

Henri Nouwen, in his wonderful book The Return of the Prodigal Son talks about how we are each ultimately called to be the "father (or mother)" in others' lives.

...my final vocation is indeed to become like the Father and to live out His divine compassion in my daily life...every son and daughter has to choose to step beyond their childhood and become father and mother for others.  It is a hard and lonely step to take...Return of the Prodigal, p121.

Nouwen talks about three ways to truly compassionate fatherhood:  grief, forgiveness, and generosity.  All three of these characteristics require a heart completely empty of self-seeking, a heart that steps over our own stuff  and pours itself out for others.  This is where the Father seeks to take His children as they "grow up" in Him.

I love the image of "stepping over our own stuff."  It has helped me many a time in conversation or in situations to remember that as I mature in God I must be willing to step over this conflict, that slight, the other hurt, etc.  That's the way of the Father...and the way of fathers and mothers who walk in His way on behalf of His children:

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5:1-2 ESV

Do you have any spiritual fathers (or mothers, for that matter) in your life?  If so, thank God and imitate their faith!  If not, ask God for some...they are treasures!  And then grow to become one!

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Hebrews 13:7 ESV

*More in the coming posts about some spiritual fathers, both dead and alive :)

Hebrews 13: Living an Unshakable Kingdom Life

unshakable kingdom
unshakable kingdom

...we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken...Hebrews 12:28 NIV

Ah, the Unshakable Kingdom! And it's ours!  It's the promise of Jesus in the New Covenant.

Hear our Lord's words,

Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.  Luke 12:32 NIV

But what is the New Covenant?  What is this "ticket" so to speak, into the Kingdom?

The New Covenant is all about the finished work of Christ through His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension.  It's all about total forgiveness of sins, a new heart that is fixed on loving God, and the indwelling Holy Spirit who causes us to walk in HIS ways...and so much more!  All received by grace through faith, not striving and working!

And as we come to the end of the letter to the Hebrews, we see that living from who we are as partakers of the New Covenant has certain qualities about it:

1.  It's a life of stability (12:15-29). We are receiving a Kingdom that's unshakable, that can't crumble to the ground or be taken over by someone stronger!  And it's right here, right now!  And this kingdom is characterized by grace and freedom and peace...not fear and dread!  It's a kingdom where Jesus is King, and we are His people!

But it's also a kingdom that's not yet!  There will be a time when all will be set right; a time when...

...at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Phil 2:10-11 ESV

2.  It's a life of brotherly love (13:1-4). We graciously receive and welcome "strangers" -- the invisible, neglected, unknown.  We remember prisoners...those physically incarcerated, as well as those imprisoned emotionally and spiritually.  Hebrews 13:2 says that we may be receiving angels unaware.  But actually, according to the gospels, we serve Christ when we serve the needy. (Matthew 25:31-45)

Phil Yancy, in his book The Jesus I Never Knew, tells about a conversation between a rich American visitor and Mother Teresa.  The American couldn't comprehend Mother Teresa's "fierce commitment to the dregs of Calcutta."  In response to his confusion, she told him,

We are a contemplative order.   First we meditate on Jesus, and then we go out and look for Him in disguise.

Where is He in disguise in our lives?

Mother Theresa with child
Mother Theresa with child

Maybe He's in disguise in our marriages.  Kingdom, New Covenant living is where we do the old-fashioned thing by honoring marriage as God's design...and by treating our spouses as brothers/sisters in the Lord and as friends (S of S 4:9-12;5:1,16).

3.  It's a life of contentment (13:5-6). We live free from "devotion" to money...why?  Because God Himself is our true Treasure!  He says..., so we can say...!

And what does He say?

I will never leave you nor forsake you.

So we can say,

The Lord is my helper;I will not fear;what can man do to me?

4.  It's a life of remembering & imitating  (13:7-8). We remember, and even study, the "exit" from this life of our spiritual leaders.

As John Piper says,

Beware of living heroes; prefer dead ones...Get heroes, especially dead ones.

Why?  They have already heard the Lord's "Well done!" They've made it to the finish line!

So then we can...

...imitate their faith.  Why?  because...Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

He was faithful to them in the past.  He is faithful to us in the present.  And He will be faithful to us and to our children and future generations on into the future!

5.  It's a life of identification (13:9-14). New Covenant living is not dependent upon religious rituals, foods, feasts, etc. (See Colossians 2:16-17).  Our "altar" is the Cross, the finished work of Christ.  And what do we "eat" there?  We eat Jesus by faith (John 6)  and get in Him:  forgiveness, righteousness, joy, peace in the Holy Spirit, hope, and so much more (Romans 14:17; 15:13).

And just as Jesus died outside the "camp" (Jerusalem and the religious establishment of His day), so we are also willing to go against the ways of the "camps" we may be part of, when they conflict with the ways our Lord and King are leading us.

What "camps" are you part of today?  Your church? your friends? your family? a relationship? your workplace?  Do you have to "sell your soul" in order to fit in and feel part of the in-crowd?  I'm here to say, DON'T DO IT!  Go to HIM outside the camp and be willing to bear HIS reproach...no matter what that may mean!

My husband and I have been part of various, what I call, Christian camps -- different traditions, from very conservative to somewhat chrismatic*.  I remember one time moaning and complaining to the Lord,

Lord, I don't fit anywhere!

The Holy Spirit said to my heart,

Congratulations!  You can fit everywhere, because you don't fit anywhere! [Read that a couple times slowly!]

Then He reminded me of Jesus who had no place to call His own, who died rejected and abandoned by even His own.  And I remembered Jesus' "healthy detachment":

Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man. John 2:23-25 NASB

So our expectations of fitting in can actually lead us to quench the Spirit in our own lives.  So again I say, don't do it!  "Go to Him outside the camp"...and the delightful surprise may be that there are others outside the camp...maybe waiting for YOU!

outside the camp
outside the camp

6.  It's a life of sacrifices (13:15-16). Jesus did the once for all sacrifice!  But we as believer-priests (1Peter 2:4-5) offer up spiritual sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving.  We are not afraid to acknowledge His name and give Him the credit that is due Him.  As Hosea so colorfully says,

We... offer our lips as sacrifices of bulls.  (Hosea 14:2, alternate trans)

So we put our lips on the altar and let them pour out with praise and thanksgiving and glory to our great God.

And then of course, we have the sacrifice of doing good and sharing...signs of true faith.  As James says,

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works...For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. James 2:18,26 -- but check out all of James 2 ESV

7.  It's a life of submission (13:17-19). We follow God's chosen leaders and make it a joy for them, not a grief.   But we realize that they also have "feet of clay" as do their followers.  So we pray for them that they finish well!

As John Piper says,

If you're watching [living] leaders, pray like crazy that they make it to the end...that they finish well!

We all know of leaders who have "shipwrecked" later in life...let's support and pray!

8.  It's a life of enablement (13:20-21).

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

the Great Shepherd of the sheep
the Great Shepherd of the sheep

One of the richest and most beautiful of benedictions in Scripture tells us that it's not about our adequacy and ability to live this New Covenant life...it's about His equipping and working.  What a relief!  We are His vessels, His instruments.

Remember, the New Covenant basically says,

God does it; therefore, I do it.

Look at these other passages that say it well...and glory!

2Cor 3:5-61Cor 15:10Gal 2:20Phil 2:12-13

9.  It's a life of listening (13:22-25). So we come full circle.  This passage says to "pay attention" (NLT), to hear to listen.  Haven't we seen that throughout the letter?  It presupposes that when God speaks, we must listen...and so a closing reminder.  New Covenant, Unshakable Kingdom living is a life of listening to our Speaking God who has spoken in His Son (Heb 1:1-3)...let us HEAR HIM!

A Mighty Fortress

Our God is, a consuming fire, A burning holy Flame, with glory and freedom Our God is, the only righteous judge, Ruling over us with kindness and wisdom We will keep our eyes on You We will keep our eyes on You

A mighty fortress is our God A sacred refuge is Your Name Your Kingdom is unshakable With You forever we will reign

Our God is, jealous for His own None could comprehend, His love and His mercy Our God is exalted on His throne High above the heavens Forever He’s worthy... We will keep our eyes on You We will keep our eyes on You

We will keep our eyes on You We will keep our eyes on You So we can set our hearts on You Lord we will set our hearts on You!

HIMSELF  by A. B. SimpsonOnce it was the blessing, Now it is the Lord; Once it was the feeling, Now it is His Word. Once His gifts I wanted, Now the Giver own; Once I sought for healing, Now Himself alone.

Once 'twas painful trying, Now 'tis perfect trust; Once a half salvation, Now the uttermost. Once 'twas ceaseless holding, Now He holds me fast; Once 'twas constant drifting, Now my anchor's cast.

Once 'twas busy planning, Now 'tis trustful prayer; Once 'twas anxious caring, Now He has the care. Once 'twas what I wanted, Now what Jesus says; Once 'twas constant asking, Now 'tis ceaseless praise.

Once it was my working, His it hence shall be; Once I tried to use Him, Now He uses me. Once the power I wanted, Now the Mighty One; Once for self I labored, Now for Him alone.

Once I hoped in Jesus, Now I know He's mine; Once my lamps were dying, Now they brightly shine. Once for death I waited, Now His coming hail; And my hopes are anchored, Safe within the veil.


For the beautiful sermon connected to this poem by A.B. Simpson, a brother from the past, click here.


For Ray Stedman's commentary on Hebrews 13, click here.Hebrews 13, Ray Stedman, Faith at Work


Streams of Living Water, Foster
Streams of Living Water, Foster

For an enlightening description of the verious traditions of the Christian faith, readStreams of Living Water, by Richard Foster.  In that book, Foster goes into the biblical and historical backgrounds of the different traditions ("camps"), as well as the strong points to emulate and the pitfalls to avoid.