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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A Brother's Personal Story: Mentoring Gone Awry!

Dear Readers In my last post, we discussed the difficult and often painful subject of mentoring that has turned into control rather than freedom and maturity in Christ.

A dear brother responded with his own story. David Bolton writes scripturally, deeply, and yet clearly on his outstanding website, Christ-Centered Christianity. David gets it about the supremacy of Christ in all things, so when he shares, I listen.

cropped-potters_wheel

God desires to, as David has said, "restore this aspect of spiritual fathering and mothering in His family, as it is as important in the spiritual realm as it is in the natural for raising up matured sons and daughters. It is good to share our stories in this regard for we know the enemy ever seeks to distort what God has designed for His glory. We overcome him, though, "...by the word of our testimony!"

Listen with me as David recounts his own journey as a young believer.  May the Lord use this to open the eyes of those who may be caught in the throes of a spiritually unhealthy relationship with another believer.disciples

David's testimony in his own words:

Thank you, Jan, for posting on this subject.  I too had a spiritual father/son relationship early on in my walk that initially was a great blessing to me, but also went awry over time.  A spirit of control grew stronger and stronger as time went on and got to the point where I had to make a decision to come out from under it. That process was very difficult because I didn’t want to be rebellious on the one hand, but it also began to involve other people in a consequential way, and so I/we had to make a break.

A few truths from Scripture were very helpful to me in discerning the true nature of the relationship at the time, which wasn’t easy while in the midst of it as a young believer. The first was Romans 8:15 which says, “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “”Abba,” Father.” I realized that the relationship that I had with my spiritual father had become marked almost entirely by the first part of that verse rather than the second. Spiritual sonship should never be based on a spirit that makes us a slave again to fear, but one that evokes a loving, trusting heart which cries “Abba”, Father! Since that is true in our relationship with our heavenly Father, it should, likewise, be true in our relationships with the spiritual fathers and mothers He has given to us.

The second truth I discovered came when I searched the Scriptures carefully concerning the relationship that Paul had with Timothy, and also with Titus, whom he owned as “sons” in the Lord. I noticed that Paul referred to them an equal number of times as “brother” as he did “son”. That was an important insight for that balance seemed to be absent in my relationship with this older brother. It had become all father to son authoritarian. I believe that in Christ, we are first and foremost “brothers” and “sisters”, and secondly we may become fathers, mothers, mentors, teachers, pastors, etc… to a few, but never to the exclusion of the equality of brotherhood that is foundational and essential in Christ. Keeping the right balance in this regard is key to a healthy relationship and a good safeguard against undue control.

In my situation, I ended up appealing to one whom this brother owned as his spiritual father, and this godly man encouraged a separation, at least for a time.  We later worked through a number of attempts at reconciliation and were able to finally come to a place of mutual respect and peace, though the closeness of fellowship we once knew was never fully restored.

I share these things in hopes that they may be an encouragement to others, either as a mentor or a mentoree.  These relationships are some of the greatest gifts that God gives us if they are walked in in the right spirit. May we all have wisdom and grace to follow Christ in His humility and love!

Thanks for sharing your story and for tying in the lessons of John the Baptist. He is a great model for us to follow!

So good! Thank you, David.walking with jesus

Brothers and sisters, feel free to share your stories here in the comment section below.

If you care to read the story of another brother in the Lord, Frank Viola, as he also shares of his mentoring experience gone awry, click here A Tale of Two Mentors

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 :)

Extending Grace to Ourselves and to Others: Reflections on Growth in the Vineyard

One year, I celebrated my June birthday with my daughter and family in California. To my delight, Beth took me to my vineyard for lunch at the lovely restaurant there.

On the way to the Temecula vineyard area, I was amazed to see how the former ruthlessly pruned vines were now covered with lush green leaves.  You may remember those stark vines in a former post.

That was just a little over 3 months before!

I wondered about the fruit though, because I do know that usually harvest season is in the fall.  So after lunch, we went to see if we could find my vine.  Beth lifted some leaves, and we saw a bunch of beautifully formed green (not ripe) grapes.

I was amazed at the transformation in such a short time.  However, the growth wasn't complete yet.  The promise of a harvest was evident, but it wasn't yet a harvest.

Those green grapes set my mind and heart thinking about growth and maturity and waiting on God, the Master Vinedresser who knows the process from the beginning to end.  He has promised,

He who began a good work in you will perfect it till the day of Christ Jesus. Phil 1:6

So often, I'm impatient with myself and others, wanting instant maturity or expecting "fruitfulness" before its time.

I think of Moses as a young man in Egypt.  The book of Acts says that he knew about his call to deliver Israel from Egyptian bondage and actually tried to do so before God's time.

When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel.  And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian.  He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand. Acts 7:23-25 ESV

God still had work to do in Moses life to bring him to the end of himself.  Then he would be ready for the mature "fruit" of being God's instrument of deliverance.

It's the same way with us.  God the Father, our Gardener, promises that as we abide in Christ His True Vine, we will bear fruit in increasing measure:

...fruit,...more fruit,... much fruit. John 15:2,5.

He has us in His process!  The Father does whatever is necessary to bring our lives to fruition.

Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he lifts up [alternate translation], and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. John 15:2

Our job is not perfection, but abiding.  But rather we are impatient and really...immature.  We want to experience mature fruit before God's time.

This reminds me of when we were kids in the 1950's.

Linda, Janet, & Nancy in Arizona circa 1954

In the 1950's, my family lived on the edge of a desert in Tucson, Arizona in a new housing area consisting of cinder block duplexes, but little else.  Not much grew out there.  But one thing that did grow was melon.  The way I know that is when we kids would eat watermelon, we would spit our seeds to one side of our front porch.  After a time, a watermelon vine would grow carrying a beautiful new melon.

Would we wait till the melon ripened to open it up?  Oh no!  We impatiently and prematurely cracked open that baby, only to see white hard flesh where juicy sweet redness should be.  What a disappointment!

And maybe that's why we are disappointed with our own lives and the lives of our children and others close to us!

There's an interesting verse in the New Testament addressed to fathers, but it could very well be addressed to mothers, daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, other relatives, friends, co-workers, neighbors, etc.  Just substitute alternate relationships for the underlined words:

Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart. Col 3:21

How do we exasperate and frustrate our children and others?

By unrealistic expectations of perfection?

By building walls instead of choosing love in difficult situations with others?

By giving up and not counting on God's working?

In reality, full maturity will will not be reached on this earth.  Rather it will come when we meet Christ face-to-face.

So in the meantime, dear brothers & sisters, let us abide in Him, keep on growing, and extend to each other (and to ourselves) God's grace:

And now, little children, abide in him... Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 1 John 2:28; 3:2

But grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. 2 Peter 3:18

The Vineyard Revisited: Reflections on Growth

I just returned from two weeks in Southern California visiting my daughter and family.  During that time, I celebrated another birthday...and to my delight Beth took me to "my vineyard" for lunch at the lovely restaurant there. On the way to the Temecula vineyard area, I was amazed to see how the former ruthlessly pruned vines were now covered with lush green leaves.  You may remember those stark vines in a former post. That was just a little over 3 months ago!

I wondered about the fruit though, because I do know that usually harvest season is in the fall.  So after lunch, we went to see if we could find "my vine".  Beth lifted some leaves, and we saw a bunch of beautifully formed green (not ripe) grapes.

That has set my mind and heart thinking about growth and maturity and waiting on God, the Master Vinedresser who knows the process from the beginning to end.  He has promised,

He who began a good work in you will perfect it till the day of Christ Jesus. Phil 1:6

So often, I'm impatient with myself and others wanting instant maturity or expecting "fruitfulness" before its time.  I think of Moses as a young man in Egypt.  The book of Acts says that he knew about his call to deliver Israel from Egyptian bondage and actually tried to do so before God's time.

When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel.  And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian.  He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand. Acts 7:23-25 ESV

God still had work to do in Moses life to bring him to the end of himself.  Then he would be ready for the mature "fruit" of being God's instrument of deliverance.

It's the same way with us.  God the Father, our Gardener, promises that as we abide in Christ His True Vine we will produce fruit in increasing measure:

...fruit,...more fruit,... much fruit. John 15:2,5.

He has us in His process!  The Father does whatever is necessary to bring our lives to fruition.

Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he lifts up [alternate translation], and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. John 15:2

Our job is not perfection, but abiding.  But rather we are impatient and really...immature.  We want to experience mature fruit before God's time.

It reminds me of when we were kids in the 1950's.

My family lived on the edge of a desert in Tucson, Arizona in a new housing area consisting of cinder block duplexes, but little else.  Not much grew out there.  But one thing that did grow was melon.  The way I know that is when we kids would eat watermelon, we would spit our seeds to one side of our front porch.  After a time, a watermelon vine would grow carrying a beautiful new melon.  Would we wait till the melon ripened to open it up?  Oh no!  We would impatiently and prematurely crack open that baby, only to see white hard flesh where juicy sweet redness should be.  What a disappointment!

And maybe that's why we are disappointed with our own lives and the lives of our children and others close to us.  There's an interesting verse in the New Testament addressed to fathers, but it could very well be addressed to mothers, daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, other relatives, friends, co-workers, neighbors, etc.  Just substitute alternate relationships for the underlined words:

Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart. Col 3:21

How do we exasperate and frustrate our children and others?  By unrealistic expectations of perfection?  By building walls instead of choosing love in difficult situations with others?  By giving up and not counting on God's working?

In reality, full maturity will will not be reached on this earth.  Rather it will come when we meet Christ face-to-face.  So in the meantime, dear brothers & sisters, let us abide in Him, keep on growing, and extend to each other (and to ourselves) God's grace:

And now, little children, abide in him... Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. 1John 2:28; 3:2

But grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  To Him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. 2Peter 3:18