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If You Really Love God, You’ll be Disciplined in Love

By Brian Congdon

A Father's Discipline is loveThe other day I walked into the deli section at the local grocery store, and a store employee greeted me from behind, in transit turning to say, “would you like a sandwich, sir?” Yes I would, please. As we worked out the details of a Virginia honey ham sandwich, the number of sweet pickles, and how much Vitamin E-rich guacamole to spread on the bun, it became apparent this individual was bubbling over with joy. When questioned about nationality, the reply was “Egypt,” and then out of the blue, “I’m a Christian.” Delightfully, the conversation changed direction. Are there a lot of Christians in Egypt? “Yes! Something like 13 million.” Wow, and how many people total? “80 million!” “Oh!” (gasping) “but there is so much persecution of Christians there! We are always being persecuted,” came the exclamation. I responded with that’s part of being a Christian – the world doesn’t like it!

Do you boldly worship the eternal, three-in-one God? Are you well-acquainted with His timeless love? If so, do you love following God? Enjoy following His commands? It involves discipline, namely your own, on behalf of a Father who will have His way any-way. Inescapable trials, lows, challenges, and joys are the method of training. The below writing will highlight the necessity of discipline, and introduce the pattern of Spirit-empowered life. The term Father will be utilized as a word interchangeable with leader.

Introduction

Functional fathers are relational. Rather than strictly programmatic, militaristic planners, they delight in relating and sharing laughter. They connect, share, communicate, remain open, and sacrificially give things of substantial value to others, such as time and intimacy. They are always seeking to bless those under their care. For example, fathers affirm and affirm and affirm others with weighty words of high esteem. The value and weight contained in these words is not derived from rationalistic mastery of an intellectual discipline, nor from tenure status or position. The weight comes solely from the Spirit of God, the author of authenticity and life. They do not teach their children to think of themselves as ‘above’ others. They do not strive to ‘act manly’ or need to alter their voice to achieve a deeper bass tone. Security in the Heavenly Father’s love begets security, depth, and knowing one’s identity, as a child of God (Matthew 3:17). Yet, a lesser understood, and often misunderstood facet of fatherly love is discipline.

Discipline, is the work of a knowing Father. He disciplines only out of love, for the betterment, growth, and correction of those under his domain. The end goal never experientially parallels the middle of the process. Instead, the process of being molded, confronted, rebuked, straightened, and exposed to light, is one of purification. “He is like a Refiner’s fire and like launderers’ soap. He will sit as a Refiner and a purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer to the LORD an offering in righteousness” (Malachi 3:2-3, NKJV). Literally and symbolically, the value of gold is in its consistent integrity. Gold won’t tarnish or corrode over time. It retains a distinct color, luster, and beauty indefinitely.

To get the impurities out (of us), we as Christians need to undergo a transformation process. Contrary to mass opinion, deep transformation is never a quick pit-stop in a lifetime of euphoric, Christian goodness. It is the vehicle of Christian growth. Good leaders must emphasize “character processing” above gift development. Failure to do so will likely yield the next generation of gifted, but unchanged Christians. Everyone is gifted (freely), too few are transformed or purified in heart, mind, and spirit. Change must be presented as a requirement, not an option on a menu of many options.

The Consequences of No or Bad Fathering

Good fathers make room and get out of the way for emerging leaders, giving them a chance to develop in a balanced fashion. They are sensitive, excellent listeners, and are careful to avoid stifling growth or blocking access to life. A lack of fathering, or total absence of fathering, produces malformed, obstinate, or rebellious children. Of course, the heart of a Father, especially God our Father, never sees a juvenile, rebellious exterior as the ‘final verdict’ on His child’s life, but rather a hurdle to lovingly be overcome.

Fathers and leaders, one and the same, are not searching for the limelight or a big horn to toot. They do not seek out positions of leadership in order to feel better about self or to satisfy an egoistic thirst for power or prominence. They do not need to prove strength or dominance by making others feel small. They do not downplay their achievements or privileged position with false humility. Nor do they use deceptive tactics to keep unsuspecting subordinates in a position of perpetual subservience. In other words, they do not make big, flowery promises which entice followers, then fail to deliver. Outstanding leaders promote, encourage, and disavow all favoritism. Favoritism has nothing to do with Christian love, and everything to do with unchecked narcissism. To truly love is to divest oneself of personal benefit, to seek the greatest good for another, with zero strings attached (1 Corinthians 13). It is ground-floor, and it is costly. In spite of the cost, it is a delightful, always-sound investment worth making.

Sensitivity is a Key to Life

Good leaders are extraordinarily sensitive to hear and obey moves of the Spirit. This signifies that they possess genuine, accurate insight about the death and resurrection processes of the Cross-life all are called to embrace. Inexperienced or untrained leaders confuse seasons of the Spirit and leverage uncrucified presuppositions or envy to control interactions with others. Instead of welcoming a person into life, they consistently insist on “my way,” ignore communication, and may have a penchant for branding others’ assertions of individuality as carnal demand. A leader’s failure to distinguish between forceful demand versus the gentle growth of a younger person into greater dimensions of maturity, can be lethal. The spark of grace gets extinguished. An invisible stronghold can govern such interactions and dynamics; the undiscerning are incapable of recognizing it. The stronghold thrives on a mindset of clever favoritism, and is fueled by select, chosen disciples to extend a false power structure. If left unchallenged or unnoticed over long periods of time, as our adversary would most prefer, this “thing” takes on a life of its own. A tornado-like vortex, the destructive, devouring dynamic must be confronted by the in-wrought power of Calvary, and dismantled. The process of confrontation is a grace-filled, godly process!

Notice, it is the falseness, energized by demonic strongholds, which must meet its end, not the people or their hearts. God loves with everlasting zeal and kindness (Jeremiah 31:3). He also hates sin and darkness. The psalmist said “I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path” (Psalm 119:104). Wrong mindsets and (sinful) heart attitudes energize darkness, opening doors for the adversary to set up operations. The heart of our God is always redemptive and focused on restoration. Yet the way to graceful restoration occurs via Calvary, not managerial perfection. Of course the old self has to die, and this should be a daily death as well (1 Corinthians 15:31). A failure to embrace the Cross-life, the death-resurrection process, results in impatient, loud, unchanged people. This is doubly important to grasp for those in positions of power or influence, who when ungoverned by the Cross, will hinder, and at times work against the expression of Christ.

Walking in humility is impossible if you’ve never been humbled by a holy God. Unchallenged pride and a Christian celebrity culture mitigate against the true Kingdom building work, which in actuality, takes place mostly behind the scenes. Anyone who, like Diotrephes, insists on always being first in everything, seeks to exalt himself rather than the God he claims to serve (3 John 1:9-11). These leaders are the most in need of God’s Fatherly grace, because they have not yet understood that genuine promotion is a divine placement which occurs by dying to self and never through clawing and greedily grabbing for it.

Hidden Ministry

All Christians who aspire to be involved in ministry should seek after the ideal form of service: hidden, behind-the-scenes service. As Richard Foster writes in Celebration of Discipline, “hidden, anonymous ministries affect even people who know nothing of them. They sense a deeper love and compassion among people though they cannot account for the feeling. If a secret service is done on their behalf, they are inspired to deeper devotion, for they know that the well of service is far deeper than they can see. It is a ministry that can be engaged in frequently by all people. It sends ripples of joy and celebration through any community of people” (Foster, 1998, 134). The more a Christian grows, the more one who formerly sought attention will value hiddenness from the spotlight. This too is a process. When the time comes to step into the public arena, he should be well-versed in the disciplines of remaining hidden, to the point that public attention is no longer desirable.

Resistance and Deafness hinder Growth

Those sectors of the Body of Christ charged with delivering a corporate message may tire of repeating the same message(s) again and again. The message may be, for example, “humble yourself and submit to God and His ways.” Yet, when hearers ignore the call to change or write it off as “the same old news,” time and again, then clearly the message has not been properly received. Either it was intentionally ignored, rejected, or not understood correctly. Jeremiah was tasked with confronting deaf Jerusalem and Judah. Ezekiel too declared a word of repentance and change and received absolutely no response from what we can tell. Still, the quality of the response does not eliminate the urgency or exigency of the initial command (Jeremiah 1:4-10). The call to obedience never changes. When so much hangs in the balance (eternal life, right relationship with God) repetition becomes a vital necessity, even if a monotonous, or disliked duty. The hope and principle idea behind the method is a shift and return to the throne and objectives of an omniscient God.

God is always calling His sheep into greater positions of alignment and desires to share details of His plans. God’s sharing may come through dreams, whisperings of truth or poignancy, or solitude with the Scriptures. It may come through a talk with a trusted friend, or, a difficult reconciliation. Our ongoing issue is nearly always one of resistance; we resist God and His voice because of a lack of understanding, unwillingness to learn, distrust or discomfort. Our inaccurate positions and unwillingness to adjust, block the flow of life from Him. He never promised an easy journey or smooth sailing. Our job is merely to obey, adjusting the sails to the winds of His Spirit whenever He says so.

Discipline involves Correction and Adjustment

If you seriously love your Creator, are submitted to His will, and are intent on obeying, you’ll be disciplined very strongly (in love). “If you love Me, you will obey My commands” (John 14:15). Of course we will all fail, and by grace God will restore us. At times His correction may be gentle, other times we may perceive it as harsh or even unfair. Still, there is never room for self-pity in the process of moving slowly closer and closer to the Father. “For whom the LORD loves He reproves, Even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:12, NASB). Continuing the theme, particularly those who are in ministry must be open to adjustment and remain accountable. Ignoring godly correction or seeking to retaliate as a response to correction signals a complete misunderstanding of God’s heart, who as a Father loves enough to reveal where we need to change. His tone is never condemnatory or angry, but compassionate and understanding, albeit firm and resolute. He knows our frame is made of dust, and gracefully empowers change.

The sheep who hear their master’s voice, will move like an ocean wave, in unison in the direction He indicates. Or, like a vast field of wheat–when the wind blows, the wheat moves! Bending, bowing, flexing, and dancing with the winds of the Spirit, all are in synchronous unison. We must flow in the same Spirit’s breeze toward progressively greater levels of grace and precision. Just like the Egyptian Christian I met in the local deli who was well-acquainted with trials and suffering, but boldly declared within 5 minutes, “Jesus is my Savior!” I unabashedly replied “Mine too!”

Finding a Healthy Church

By Brian Congdon

Healthy ChurchOver a span of about 25 years I have seen only a handful of churches in person I would consider “healthy.” Although rare, these churches were so skilled and effective at their mission that it would be hard to imagine anything better. For example, one of the best spirit-filled churches I know of was a small church of only about 200 people. Based in Walla Walla, WA, this church possessed the most outstanding men’s ministry I have seen anywhere, to this day. The Spirit of God was poured out on this place and people like few others. During my time there I met and fellowshipped several times a week with great men. Several took me under their wing and never stopped offering generous counsel and words of wisdom. Many solid relationships emerged from spending time in this church. These mentors served as loyal friends, encouragers, and fathers to many; they were extraordinary men. They spoke healing and fortitude into many lives, constantly giving and serving those in need unselfishly. They never had a need or desire for public recognition.

I have secretly dreamt of finding another church like the small one encountered years ago in Walla Walla, but have never seen another quite like it. I am reminded that with great moves of God, there are seasons, and the plentitude may last quite a long time, but is still limited to a season. Unceasing growth is not always healthy. For reasons we know very little about, these seasons evolve and then suddenly change course or disappear altogether. One day we abruptly discover the “water spout” closed. Contextually, it then becomes error to attempt to open what God has supernaturally closed, and unwise to build lifelong dwellings next to a dried up oasis. Like Moses, an obedient believer must leave the comfort of familiarity to be driven out into a barren (desert) wasteland by the Spirit. Jesus did it. How about Joseph? Yes. Paul? Check.

It is not necessary to recount the shortcomings of the prosperity Gospel in the West. Due to increasing media coverage and the embarrassing public foibles of several prominent evangelical ministries over past decades, the culture views “prosperous” or “mega” ministries with a very skeptical eye. And they are justified (not critical) in doing so. Said ministries’ underlying value systems are inward-focused, anthropocentric, and occasionally even anti-kingdom, no matter how cleverly presented or dressed down in supposed humility. To say so is not a blanket statement, since some of the most effective ministries in existence, in terms of conversions and developmental, long-term change, are very large in size (e.g. Hillsong Sydney).

It is not usually a matter of quantity that engenders malaise, rather, mindset. God is very aware of the motives and hearts that drive such a machine, and does not stand in condemnation, rather, sends warnings and confrontation to effectuate redemption. One could term the really bad ones “life-sucking” instead of “life-giving.” Sometimes I wonder why it is even necessary to have video cameras rolling in every single service. Some churches capture all 3 services in one day, then put one or more of the best recordings online. Maybe watching all 3 versions in simultaneity will make you grow faster? I think this is a waste of time and effort, even if it is run by a well-oiled volunteer machine. Why not focus more energy on developing relationships and training congregants through discipleship?

On the other hand, there are some churches that truly shine with their media and television ministries. Though critics always surface from out of the woodwork, and the bible-thumping blogosphere has little tolerance for “Christianity Lite,” I have found Joel and Victoria Osteen’s ministry to be highly beneficial and yes, hope-inspiring. For those who endure seasons with no church family, “the smilin’ preacher” speaks an anointed word, imparting palpable courage to go forward in strength and conviction. He is one of the best encouragers out there. He and his wife minister to the nations every week, all from inside a single, massive building (or city?) with a television broadcast. “Friends, if you prayed this prayer we believe you are now born again. Get in a good Bible based church. Keep God first in your life. He’ll take you places that you’ve never even dreamed of.” He may be a bit theologically shallow at times, but perhaps it is deliberate – the invitation is supposed to start with a simple, free grace gift afterall. He can be psychotherapeutic too, but it is amazing what will happen when someone eagerly seeks to obey God. Life flows. Needs are met. The Spirit of God can show up in ways that defy all logic and church management techniques.

A genuinely healthy church is the product, first and foremost, of people with a right heart. To arrive there, we must undergo a thorough reality-check. Bypassing this step is bypassing God. To be challenged into a position of accurate alignment with God’s heart, is synonymous with godly love. Transformational agape is not a psychological feeling. A core aspect of the prophetic, and the Fatherly heart of God for that matter, is for His people to turn in their hearts toward Him. John the Baptist prepared the way for the coming of our Savior and a paradigmatically new Kingdom. He did so by offering the baptism of repentance.

From a worldly, man-centered, and misguided life (everyone’s testimony for a season or three) we are confronted in love with a superior way. This way is the only way, and direction, worth going in. That it is the only way does not mean experiential monotany for every individual. In the style of the GEICO man in suit and tie, one eyebrow raised, “Does a Baskin & Robbins ice cream shop come with only 1 flavor?” Following this way, there is hope and purpose, and rescue from the clamoring imitations, and shiny yet hollow promises of the Babylonian experiment we are in but not of. Cradled in the arms of the One who singularly saves, and deeply planted in the company of a vibrant church body, we can finally say “I’m home!”

To get there, a re-alignment of mind, heart, and will is strongly recommended. Without the clarion call to repentance, all the church programs, ministries, and activity, are meaningless exercises. The contemporary Church is sleeping. A shift must begin with a wakeup call. The faithful need Kingdom truth stripped of dogma, passé teaching, and christianeeze talking points. Old patterns of “doing church” can and should be replaced with a death-resurrection model which points to the Cross, exalts the character of Christ, and beckons believers to follow in the pattern of Christ. People from all walks must taste and see living, life-giving examples of the love and exemplary death of Jesus Christ. Otherwise, there is little point to Sunday morning. Change may be hard, but the wide road alternatives, lest we be fooled, are actually much harder when viewed through a ‘lifetime’ lens. Instead, let us willingly and boldly choose to be part of the new generation of leaders God is raising up for His eternal purposes!

Effective Evangelism

By Brian Congdon

EvangelismEffective evangelism is the product of a heart burning for the cause of the unreached, the defenseless and voiceless. There is a compassion and desire for disseminating the hope of salvation and relationship with Christ which drives the evangelist. Its effectiveness is most obvious when the evangelist lives a specifically identifiable lifestyle, pointing to the likeness of Christ.

Kenneth Boa’s Conformed to His Image: Biblical and Practical Approaches to Spiritual Formation, describes various approaches and examples of evangelism in the New Testament. “Scripture illustrates different methods of evangelism, and three of these are proclamational, confrontational, and relational. The apostle Peter used a proclamational approach in his sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2). About three thousand souls were added to the family of God that day (v. 41). Philip the deacon illustrates a confrontational approach in his one-time encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-39). All of us are called to represent Christ, but a few believers are given a particular gift of personal evangelism that enables them to be effective in sharing the gospel without first developing a relational history with outsiders. The relational approach is portrayed in the apostle Paul’s description of his intimate personal engagement with people in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 2:1-12).”

Barriers to evangelism stem from misconceptions of the task, held by both Christians and unbelievers. Many Christians are reluctant to present the gospel intuitively sensing it may result in rejection. Unbelievers who have had sour experiences with forceful, insensitive ‘would-be’ evangelists will view all contact with Christians through giant eyes of skepticism. And the truth is that they are right to feel this way. Charlatans and some who were not even born-again have taken it upon themselves to force condemning interpretations of doctrine down people’s throats. Unfortunately, this has pre-polluted the atmosphere needed for successful evangelism and gospel presentation. The next and possibly most important barrier to evangelism is learning how to let one’s life to speak. It will always be tempting to shout out what we know in a way that makes us feel powerful and noticed. The trick, however, is to let personal character and lifestyle, do all the talking.

In general, the power of God is desperately needed in the church today. Doctrine borne out of cessationism has threatened to squelch the Holy Spirit altogether in some churches. Young people in particular, unless drawn to religion for performance-reward reasons, are not likely to be impressed with a stale, powerless, philosophical sermon series in a church. The power of God, demonstrated in myriad ways, with theologically sound underpinnings, will draw young people in droves. For example, Hillsong church in Sydney, Australia has a worship ministry which powerfully draws in the lost and ministers life in an undeniable, free-flowing Spirit way. It is truly exciting and attractive, not dull and repetitive, or worship track monotony as some churches specialize in.

A great way to make the gospel relevant is to bring it to the community by meeting their needs. This is highly effective outreach and doesn’t require others to join a church. Rather, unbelievers and strangers alike can freely become the recipients of outreach and blessing. One strategy as practiced by a local church in the Vienna, VA area, is to offer free ice water to thirsty cyclists along the 45 mile W&OD (Washington and Old Dominion) Trail. Most leave refreshed and merely say “thanks,” while some start up a conversation that may lead to sharing Christ. Overall, their kind and generous actions speak much louder than words.

The Faith of Abraham

By Brian Congdon

Leap of FaithJames emphasizes works as paramount for a Christ-follower (James 2:14-26)  because he is establishing the correct definition for faith. Any talk of faith divorced from corresponding deeds is not faith, but rather a false imitator of the real deal. Put another way, faith is only alive and well when paired with active works. “What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works?” (James 2:14) To claim possession of faith yet being unwilling to exercise it through works of service (e.g. for the needy), is a complete contradiction of terms.

The book of James illustrates this principle with various examples, most notably with the life of Abraham, the progenitor of many nations. All Christians owe Abraham a debt of gratitude for his willingness to actively obey the Lord and become the father of the faith. The Scriptures say, “was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected…” (James 2:21, 22)

Abraham sought to obey God though he knew not the outcome of such obedience, to the point of sacrificing his own son, even though Isaac was his most prized possession. His sacrificial example serves to highlight how an active, participatory role with God’s commands, exemplifies correct faith. If Abraham were to offer mere mental assent to the concept of sacrificing his son, yet not actually build the altar, his “agreement” without action would be meaningless. Such behavior is akin to hearing the commands of God, expecting blessings from Him, then turning around and refusing to obey them. What is the point of hearing God’s words if we are not going to do them?

By design, faith is a verb, not simply a noun. God is searching for willing vessels who will obey and execute his commands, even if it has a high personal price tag. Abraham’s example of faith demonstrates the more perfect way to live by faith. The result? “‘Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,’ and he was called the friend of God.” (James 2:23) In verse 24 it goes on to say “man is justified by works,” and this seems to please God, if Abraham’s rewards (father of nations, friend of God) are any indication.

Quixotic Thought: The Disease of Literalism

By Brian Congdon

Don Quixote “Obviously,” replied Don Quixote, “you don’t know much about adventures. Those are giants, and if you’re frightened take yourself away from here and say your prayers, while I go charging into savage and unequal combat with them.1” The adventure-thirsty knight charged after his “giant” foes ignoring Sancho Panza’s warnings, only to be flung violently to the ground, bruised and disgraced. Even if taken literally and the thirty or so windmills were actually giants, Quixote would have been far outnumbered and ill-equipped to slay them.

For those who have read Don Quixote, the reader knows all too well about his maniacal character. Each adventure or misadventure, depending on interpretation, is inaugurated by a drawn-out monologue of extraordinarily eloquent speech articulating the intricacies of some knightly code or custom. But when the speeches are compared with the stupidity of Quixote’s actions in “battle,” they do not make any sense. An incongruence between lofty statements made for the sake of justice, and such ridiculous actions, signal that at base something is not right. Quixote knows plenty about laws of knighthood and chivalrous conduct, but next to nothing when it comes to the intuitive nature of fear in the presence of dangerous individuals. Quixote has a very hard time sensing trouble, or any pernicious situation for that matter. He always finds himself right in the middle of them with too little time to escape.

The adventures of Don Quixote are relevant for contemporary study because the main character’s wild conduct reveals a gaping deficit in experiential knowledge. Despite his “informed” opinions and eloquent speech which always seems to defend a valiant cause, his actions are reckless and foolish. His extremely low capacity to intuitively or experientially navigate through a difficult situation becomes an overriding issue and major source of hardship. Cervantes wrote this novel using fictional characters, but regrettably the Christian church brims with persons of remarkably similar disposition.

Much like Don Quixote, man does not function well when solely relying on intellect. More often than not, modern man displays a disproportionate reliance on cognitive, rational analysis. The schism of head and heart, or the distance between discursive reason and intuitive, symbolic-feeling, is the chasm situated between two necessary and complementary faculties. They form the essential makeup of man. Extreme circular and introspective analysis alienated from the intuitive, feeling faculties has a propensity to strip concrete thoughts of their actual meaning. The head and heart faculties are complementary and were never intended to be separate, lest one or the other suffer isolation and abnormal development. Man equally possesses a certain propensity to base understanding solely on his heart, isolated from the rational and logical ways of knowing. However, a balanced, healthy person relies on both faculties simultaneously as a means of interpreting and knowing everyday life.

Leanne Payne says “this schism probably began with the advent and universal acceptance of greek philosophies, then Rene Descartes’ dictum “I think therefore I am,” followed by the Cartesian world and its emphasis on scientific knowing.2” An extreme dependence on the intellect probably results from mental over-compensation for lack of integration with one’s heart. Subsequently, the imbalanced person must “balance out” the lack of emotional substance with the mind. Some might refer to this condition as hard-heartedness, or relational “dryness.” More precisely, this is the system of defense that one develops to combat estrangement from emotional or feeling-based types of knowing. It is “the terrible schism in the heart of man that Kierkegaard cried out about when he said that we have forgotten how to exist, and can only think and talk about being.3

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