THE CRY FOR SPIRITUAL FATHERS AND MOTHERS [PART 2]

[I suggest you read Part 1 if to benefit from Part 2]

An example of our theme from the animal world. I recall some years ago (late 90’s?) seeing the wild life documentary on television and being intrigued by it. Larry Kreider picked it up in his book on our subject (see Part 1). South African game rangers were concerned about the plight of the white rhino in Pilanesberg Park, N.W. Province. Some 39 of this endangered species (far more so in 2013!) had been found slaughtered in the park, presumably by poachers. However, on closer examination, it was discovered that all of the rhinos’ horns (worth a fortune on the black market) remained among the carcasses. So the game rangers tranquilized and electronically tagged the remaining rhinos. Hidden cameras were set up in strategic locations to record their movements.

The wardens were staggered to find that young bull elephants, contrary to their nature, were harassing the rhinos without provocation. These teenage elephants were chasing the rhinos for long distances, throwing objects at them and stomping them to death. Why?? Apparently 20 years previously Kruger Park, over-populated by elephants, transferred some of these to Pilanesberg. The elephants who were too large to transport were put down, including a significant number of mature bulls. As a result the teen bulls grew up without the influence and presence of mature males.

In order to solve the problem, park officials were forced to put down 5 of the most aggressive young bull elephants and import some older bulls into the reserve. The result? The younger aggressive bulls learned very quickly that they were no match for the mature bulls – the latter had by their very presence and maturity become the ‘fathers’ of the herd, and the teen bulls had learned to imitate them. In fact, the teenagers seemed to enjoy their relationship with their new mentors. And you’ve guessed it, there were no more rhino victims at Pilanesberg!

It’s a parable for God’s community, isn’t it? [Kreider in his book also points to the example of Eli and his sons, recorded in 1 Sam. 2:12ff]. When maturer believers (and you don’t have to be old to be a mature believer!) don’t assume the responsibility of gracious spiritual fatherhood and motherhood in the community, the Family suffers and is populated by spiritual orphans. I’ve seen it so many times, even this past week.

That is why my wife and I and our extended family have (for some years now) opted for organic house churches, where unconditional acceptance, intimacy and honesty are more easily cultivated – very difficult in many larger, traditional ‘churches.’  [you may want to refer to some of my earlier blogs which relate our journey]

For those who (like me) often feel inadequate as a spiritual parent, another example, this time from the life of author Henri Nouwen [I just love his books – they not only enrich me but somehow always de-stress me! My favourites include ‘In the House of the Lord’ and ‘In the Name of Jesus’]. Nouwen, who died in 1996, was a Dutch Roman Catholic priest who left a highly acclaimed academic career to share his life (note!) with mentally disabled people as a pastor at l’Arche Daybreak Community in Toronto, Canada. Nouwen reflects on his journey to spiritual fatherhood in his The Return of the Prodigal Son.’  In it he tells of his fascination with Rembrandt’s painting of the prodigal son in his father’s arms as the elder son looks on (Lk. 15:11-32). He often saw so much of himself in the elder son, and it grieved him. One day a very bold friend said to him, ‘Whether you are the younger son or the elder son, you have to realize that you are called to become the father. You have been looking for friends all your life; you have been craving for friends all your life; you have been craving for affection as long as I’ve known you; you have been interested in thousands of things; you have been begging for attention, appreciation, and affirmation left and right (haven’t we all!). The time has come to claim your true vocation – to be a father who can welcome his children home without asking them any questions and without wanting anything from them in return.’

Inspired and empowered by the Father’s unending and unconditional love, His gracious acceptance and affirmation, surely you and I will confidently rise up and answer the cry for spiritual fathers and mothers in our needy world today!

 

 

 

 

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THE CRY FOR SPIRITUAL FATHERS AND MOTHERS [PART 1]

In the early 2000’s, while pastoring a  ‘cell church’ (refer Joel Comiskey et al) in a traditional denomination, I met up with Larry Kreider of the Cell Church movement and began to read his books. One that particularly impacted me was his ‘Cry for Spiritual Fathers & Mothers.’ Kreider went into a lot of detail, whereas I simply want to highlight the need for ‘spiritual fathers and mothers’ in our homes and churches today.
In this connection I was struck by the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 4:14-17. Paul is defending his apostleship in the face of a rather immature and arrogant ecclesia of believers in Corinth, a congregation he had pioneered in the home of his friends, Priscilla and Aquila, over some 18 months. Lately reports had reached Paul  of the Corinthians’ subsequent immaturity of life and practice.
He underpins his apostleship with his self-humiliation and character for the sake of the gospel (check out his ‘CV’ in v. 1ff and v. 9ff). He then refers to his ‘spiritual fatherhood’ of the Corinthian believers in v. 14ff, “I am not writing this to shame you, but to warn you, as my dear children. Even though you have ten thousand guardians (Gr. ‘paidagogos,’ lit. tutor/teacher/trainer) in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love… He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church…” 
These words point us to some essential principles of ‘spiritual fatherhood’:  a personal and authentic relationship with God in Christ; a communication and living out of the gospel; ‘teaching’ undergirded by a loving, Jesus-centred and disciplined lifestyle; a ‘life’ and example to imitate. Paul’s witness was not the superficial, schizophrenic kind exhibited by so many leaders and ‘church-attenders’ today, who say one thing and live another [are we not (in the West) bombarded by 10,000’s of preachers and teachers, seminars, conferences, books, DVD’s, church programs, TV programs, etc? Yet our churches, more often than not, are shrinking quantitatively and qualitiatively as I write]. In short, Paul’s life and ministry was shot through with supernatural truth, integrity, realism, character and love. Was he perfect? Of course not! But he was a man surrendered, and that’s within our grasp.
While we are not ‘apostles’ in the NT sense of Paul, James and John, we are all Christ’s ‘sent-ones,’ called to gossip his good news and incarnate his life in the world. We are mini-Christ’s, quite literally the only Bible most people will read. More specifically, we are called to be ‘imitate-able’ spiritual fathers and mothers in our homes, ecclesiae, community, marketplace and society. I happen to live and minister in South Africa, where more than half of our children and youth come from single-parent or non-parental homes. The almost weekly experience of my wife and myself (and our grown-up, happily married children) is that of younger people and older people approaching us, not only for what we may know but (and we say this humbly) but for what they may just see in us, i.e. ‘spiritual fathers and mothers’ who by the outrageous grace of God reflect just a tiny glimmer of apostolic life.
All it takes, really, is a humble, biblical, relational, communal (in Africa we have a saying, “It takes a village to raise a child’), ‘real’ (down-to-earth), ‘ordinary’ faith lived out in the power of the indwelling Christ. As Paul declared to the Colossian believers, “Christ in you, the hope of glory!”    (Col. 1:27b) We never know the outcome: think of Moses and Joshua, Naomi and Ruth, Granny Lois and Mum Eunice. Let’s see our spiritual offspring outstrip us in every way!
To be continued…
 
 
 
 
 

HOW I WOULD LIKE TO LIVE… AND DIE?

A few weeks ago I attended the funeral of a friend, a Christian servant in our city, an Anglican priest who, according to his wife was essentially ‘a missionary caught up in clerical garb.’ In his latter years he was strongly involved in a local movement of ‘prayer, revival and mission.’ His name, Alan Stansbury, 1929-2013. He and Molly had chosen to serve mostly in small country parishes in South Africa. I have the funeral brochure before me, a collage of small photos of Alan from his early school days in the Eastern Cape until his latter years as retired priest: his face always beaming, exhuberant, kindly.

A number of things struck me at his deeply-moving funeral Service…

First, the large crowd of people who came to remember him – many hundreds of people crowded into the church building and hall. I arrived 20 minutes early, but had to stand throughout the Service with many others. He had served in relative obscurity but was remembered fondly by so many of different cultures, denominations, church groups, etc.

Second, the Service was full of light and joy! Yes, tears were shed as two daughters, a grand-daughter and his son (also an Anglican priest in our city) reminisced about him.

Third, the immediate family spoke so powerfully of the influence of Alan’s life on them. Always it was about a husband, dad and grand-dad whose everyday behaviour was shot through with Jesus! He lived Jesus, so often sang about and to him, laboured for him. He lived joyfully, simply, honestly and frugally. His son David stated during the Service, ‘I am in the ministry because of my Dad.’

Fourth, he wasn’t necessarily remembered as a brilliant preacher, orator or charismatic leader, etc: he was remembered as the servant of all. Humble and gentle.

Fifth, according to David, Alan was often misunderstood for his firm convictions, even persecuted. A man ahead of his times in terms of a ‘free-er’ style of worship, someone who honoured all people at all times, especially the poor and oppressed. Remember, he served as priest during the dark days of Apartheid…

Was he perfect? Of course not! But what a shining example for us all.

One of the most prominent 20th century Roman Catholic theologians, Hans Urs von Balthasar (quite a mouthful!), reflected (in his Heart of the World) on the heart of Jesus: ‘I say to you, Blessed is he who exposes himself to an existence never brought under mastery, who does not transcend, but rather abandons himself to my ever-transcending grace. Blessed are not the enlightened whose every question has been answered and who are delighted with their own sublime insight, the mature and the ripe ones whose one remaining action is to fall from the tree. Blessed rather are the chased, the harassed who must daily stand before my enigmas and cannot solve them. Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who lack a spirit of cleverness. Woe to the rich, and woe to the doubly rich in spirit! Although nothing is impossible with God, it is difficult for the Spirit to move their fat hearts. The poor are willing and easy to direct. Like little puppies they do not take their eyes from their master’s hand to see if perhaps he may throw them a little morsel from his plate. So carefully do the poor follow my promptings that they listen to the wind (which blows where it pleases), even when it changes. From the sky they can read the weather and interpret the signs of the times. My grace is unpretentious, but the poor are satisfied with little gifts.’

The kind of life modelled by Alan, is one I aspire to through the indwelling Christ. Hopefully I can then also die as well as he did…

PS With reference to my last blog ‘The Temple Talisman,’ some may feel I am over-stating the challenge facing the Church in the 21st century. This morning I came across this adroit observation by N. American blogger, pastor and author Michael Spencer (Mere Churchianity): Evangelical Christians seem to believe – indeed they insist – that ‘their ship is listing to one side because it gives a more interesting look at the iceberg!’

The Temple Talisman…

 

My family and I are often approached by serious Christians who have tired of ‘church politics’ in their local church and have become disenchanted with church in general.  A recent radio broadcast indicated that one of the largest mainline denominations in SA lost + 29,000 members in 2012. Somewhere we seem to have lost the plot…

In his fabulous little book, First Century Faith, F.F. Bruce defines the ‘gospel,’ often so misinterpreted by the Church, so cheapened and even lost at times (no, I am not exaggerating: I move among many churches). Bruce then expounds ‘the gospel according to Jesus,’ which his followers were to gossip to the nations. This gospel would confront the religiosity of the Jews and the paganism of the Gentiles. To the end of time, Jesus’ followers would be the servants and friends of a King who established his kingdom by his death on the cross, transforming the defeat and the disgrace of which the cross was once a symbol into victory and glory! (see 1 Cor. 15:1-28 for a good summary of this gospel)

Having largely lost the gospel, many denominations (+ 35,000 in the world?) and local churches have substituted it with consumerism, crass materialism, pop psychology, their own ‘vision’ and ‘kingdom,’ ‘churchism’ (where Christ is hardly seen or encountered), etc.

One ‘church’ in our city asks customers to call early in order to reserve the ‘best seats’ in the house.

Many ‘go to church’ (a physical and spiritual impossibility), yet show little if any sign of Christ’s transforming truth in their corporate and personal life. (again, if you think I am exaggerating, check George Barna’s stat’s on the Church in N. America, perhaps typifying the Church in the West)

There was another generation that demonstrated this sick ‘churchianity.’ The prophet Jeremiah, in about 609/8 BC, preached a sermon that shook the Jerusalem Temple and its  superstitious and hypocritical leaders and worshippers: ‘”Clean up your act – the way you live, the things you do – so I can make my home in this place. Don’t for a minute believe the lies being spoken here –  ‘This is GOD’S Temple, GOD’S Temple, GOD’S Temple!’ Total nonsense! Only when you clean up your act… only if you do a total spring cleaning on the way you live and treat your neighbours, only if you quit exploiting the street people and orphans and widows, no longer taking advantage of innocent people on this very site and no longer destroying your souls by using this Temple as a front for other gods – only THEN will I move into your neighbourhood. Only THEN will this country I gave your ancestors be my permanent home, my Temple” (Jer. 7:3-7, MSG). Jeremiah challenges the clergy and laity of his day to stop treating the Temple as a kind of talisman or lucky charm, in which they put their trust instead of the living God! (yes, you’ve guessed it – for his trouble he was  excommunicated: of course it still happens today!)

Along came Stephen. After his arrest by the Jewish Religious Council because he was “always speaking against the Temple and against the law of Moses” (Acts 6:13), Stephen declares before the Sanhedrin (clergy) (Acts 7:48-49, NLT), “the Most High doesn’t live in temples made by human hands. As the prophet says, ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Could you ever build me a temple as good as that?’” 

Jesus used the temple motif in pointing to himself as ‘Temple’  – note Jn. 1 & 2, the new Genesis (compare Jn. 1 & 2 with Gen. 1 & 2). John writes of Jesus, “The Word became flesh and lived (lit. ‘tabernacled’‘) for a while among us. We have seen his glory…” (1:14)

Paul, challenging immorality in the Corinthian Church, reminded the believers that they,  corporately and individually, constituted ‘the temple of the Holy Spirit.” (1 Cor. 6:19)

So what’s the solution for today’s ‘churchianity’? Where do we begin??

  • By grasping the realities facing us and repenting before the Lord.
  • By diligently pursuing and rediscovering the biblical Jesus and the message of his Kingdom. Here I heartily recommend Anglican theologian N.T. Wright’s The Challenge ofJesus, published by IVP Academic.
  • By (perhaps) pioneering, humbly and prayerfully, something new in your neighbourhood or workplace (as my family and I have done over the past 6 years,  with great joy).  Any such group should entail minimal structure and maximum LIFE (JESUS). To guide you, get a copy of Frank Viola’s So You Want to Start a House Church? published by Present Testimony Ministry (www.ptmin.org). You may also be helped by my previous blog, Where is your heart?