This month: 189 - Freedom in Christ
Exploring the Heart of Restoration

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Archives for March, 2021

By Allen Close

     After thirty four years in ministry, I can still get asked questions that catch me off guard.  Recently, I was getting ready for a workout at CrossFit Staunton in Virginia when a woman asked me if I would baptize her four-year-old.  I’m pretty sure my face betrayed my concern since all thirty four years of preaching has been in Churches of Christ — where we don’t baptize small children.  My mind was suddenly racing.  I felt the pressure of strong beliefs I grew up with, but also felt the quandary of not wanting to tell her to go find someone else.  After a lightning fast prayer, I asked if we could talk after the workout.  That delay was a blessing from God; during the workout, I considered how my discipleship cohort would deal with this. 

     I’m part of a discipleship cohort that uses the material and structure provided by Mission Alive.  For months now we have been meeting weekly to learn to listen to God together.  We listen to God through scripture, prayer, and mission.  During my workout I was able to use the rhythm we have learned to pray for God’s help and to listen for his answer.

     After a series of burpees, wall balls, and dead lifts, I was ready to engage her question again.  What I soon realized is she did not mean baptize the way I was envisioning it.  I was thinking we would go to the Church building and immerse him in the water.  What she really wanted was some kind of an anointing or blessing.  I thanked God that I had not brushed her off with a safe but negative answer.  I knew I could do this.

     A month later, I drove to her parent’s farm with a small vial of water and some verses I planned to use.  When I drove up, between the horse barn and the swimming pool, I saw about twenty people gathered.  Some of them were Catholic, some were from some other church, but most did not regularly attend anywhere.  I began by talking about how Jesus felt about children and his desire for them to come to him.  I also got to talk about his love for each one of us, baptism by immersion, and the fear we all feel as parents that we might mess up our children.  Finally, I was able to talk about the day when this boy would decide on his own that he wants Jesus to be his Lord and to be baptized into that lordship.  Later that evening we all went to a restaurant where I had even more opportunities to witness for God.

     As I look back on this day, I thank God that He had prepared me for this by putting me in a group that would help me learn to rely directly on God and his communication with me.  Opportunities like this are precious and I am thankful that I did not let it pass me by.  And later, when I shared this with my cohort, we all rejoiced together.  Hallelujah!

If you would like to learn more about Mission Alive’s Discipleship Cohorts or join a cohort
you can find that information here.

Passover

The Lord’s Supper. An important dimension to the Supper is eschatology. We might imagine eschatology as end time scenarios for the demise of world but that is only a small dimension. Perhaps we get a better insight into what eschatology is if we think of it as when God’s time washes over our time. When God’s time and our time connect the direction is backward to the past as well as forward to the future.

Israel’s worship, especially the sacrifices have this time machine (eschatology) quality to them. That is, they connect the present living generation with the “gospel” event from the past. For example during the Passover meal hear the question, “What do these mean?” The answer to that profound question is:

WE were slaves in Egypt but the LORD …”
“When the Egyptians treated US harshly …”
“WE cried out.

The Passover was God’s answer to Israel’s cry in the past and the present.

Over and over the living generation is connected with the past act of God grace through the festivals. All Israel’s festivals centered on the sacrificial meal, that is a supper with the Lord. The Passover, Pentecost, even Purim centers around the table and eating with God.

Thus the Passover Haggadah reads states, “in every generation each human must see himself as personally coming out of Egypt.” Through the meal we are the Passover generation. We are the ones coming out of the land of slavery, into life, freedom and forgiveness. Suddenly, at the table we are escaping with our very lives from the kingdom of death (Egypt) by the Lord of grace.

At the table we have entered God’s time of salvation and have koinonia with the Christ and we have fellowship with all those being rescued. All those in the past and all those in the present. Remembering, in a Hebraic worldview, is far more than an intellectual recollection of the past. Remembering it is a reliving of the powerful God moment of redemption. The Passover becomes something like virtual reality.

Psalm 116 was used in the Passover liturgy long before Jesus was born. It was connected with the Passover because of this very Hebraic notion of God’s time. When Jesus sang Psalm 116 he was not only joining his fellow Jews at the table who also sang it, but he is identifying with all who have gone before. The Psalm says we were slaves, we were afflicted, God heard our cry. The Passover was God’s answer to the cry. Hear these words as they connect both to Jesus and all humans.

I love the LORD because he has heard me …
The snares of death encompassed me
[read Ex 2.23-24]
I called on the name of the LORD
‘O LORD save my life’
…”

In the Gospels, we read that great anguish came over Jesus after the meal, the meal that placed him in communion with all who had suffered before the threat of death.

When we sit at the Supper, we too join not only those leaving Egypt but find ourselves with Jesus as if we have been taken in God’s time machine to walk with him, eat with him … and even die with him.

But the Passover is a time of Joy because it points to God’s victory, not God’s defeat. It points to God’s gracious response to our prayers. So the Psalm has a middle “chorus” that all God’s children sing, from Egypt to the New Heavens and New Earth.

Gracious is the LORD,
and righteous
our God is merciful
[a loose paraphrase of Ex 34.6].

The LORD protects the simple;
When I was brought low,
he saved me …

This is the confidence of faith. We know we have been set free because we are part of the Exodus generation. But as Jesus is singing this song at the table, and on the way to the Garden with his disciples, it is also a statement of future faith. Because we share in the table, we know that the kingdom of death has been defeated. God has saved our life.

Now this is not simply a matter of going to heaven when we die. When Jesus prayed this prayer with and in fellowship with his disciples he is pointing to the future in the faith that God will raise him from the dead. God has heard his prayer.

For you have delivered ME from death …”

Jesus is living the Story. The table is eschatology both to the past and the future. And we join him as we proclaim his death “until he comes.”

But we live in the present. Jesus and the disciples, with the Israelites of old, sang “I am greatly afflicted” “Everyone is a liar.” We all know this sad truth from “personal experience.” Even those who sit at the table sadly, at times, share in the lies of the Evil One.

The Psalm assumes our participation in a future meal with God and his people. We lift up the “cup of salvation” and

offer a thanksgiving offering

and

in the presence of God’s people,
in the courts of the house of the LORD.

The movement of the Psalm follows the movement of God’s time at the table.

Our union with those leaving Egypt. (Past)
Our present agony as we live in a faithless world. (Present)
Our standing in the presence of God joyously feasting because even now God has delivered us. (Future).

At the table we are bound to the past. At the table we have communion with Jesus in the struggle for faith. At the table we are escorted into the very presence of God. The book of Revelation ends with that promise. We are seated at the Wedding Supper of the Lamb, our tears are washed away by the God who hears our cries, and God makes his home with us.

What “happens” at the table is a microcosm of the entire Story of God. Those who feast at this table share with those in the past, share in the present, and share in the future.

We are in God’s time at the table.

“If I disobey, God will burn me for it.”  

That was more or less what my grandfather — a self-described “West Texas Gospel Preacher” in the Churches of Christ — said to me in the doorway of my parents’ home in my mid-twenties. 

He had visited my parents’ house over the holidays to admonish us about our perceived unfaithfulness to God concerning some doctrinal differences. Some time before that he had written a letter to my father, also a minister in Churches of Christ, disowning him and our family (myself included) and offering to welcome us back if we would repent. (I have my father’s consent to share this.) 

So when he said to me, “If I disobey, God will burn me for it,” the subtext and real message was, “God will burn you, too, if you don’t change your ways.”  

I don’t doubt my grandfather’s sincerity or love for us. I believe he was genuinely afraid that God would eternally punish us because of some of our beliefs and practices and that he was trying to help us in the best way he knew how. 

Experiences like this are why I, and many others who have experienced spiritual abuse and trauma, come to the subject of obedience with some difficulty. Because obedience has been wielded upon us as a weapon meant to terrify and coerce conformity. More than that, the divine recipient of my grandfather’s obedience is terrifying and coercive. This deity is not unlike the god described by Jim Carrey in the movie Bruce Almighty, who is imagined as a kid peering over an anthill with a magnifying glass on a sunny day trying to burn up the ants. 

This is not the God of Jesus of Nazareth. Such conceptions of God reflect diseased theological imagination that are inconsistent with way of Jesus. For survivors of spiritual abuse and trauma, embracing obedience requires alternative imagination about the God who asks for obedience — imagination not foreign to our Scriptures but rather which travels deeper into them. 

The God of Jesus does not enact abuse and trauma upon humanity. And neither does God enact abuse and trauma upon Jesus in the place of humanity. On the contrary, our God, present in the person of Jesus, experiences with us the weight of spiritual abuse and trauma at the cross. Jesus was himself abused by those who used obedience as a weapon. God in Jesus willingly entered into such trauma so as to allow the powers of darkness to exhaust their power and to overturn them through resurrection from the dead. God the Creator, Messiah, and Advocate entered into this suffering out of great love for humanity and the cosmos, and for the sake of its liberation and flourishing. 

This is the God — the one who suffers with us — who invites us to obey everything Jesus has commanded us. This is the one whose yoke is easy and burden is light and who offers rest for our souls. This is the one who would not ask us to do anything which God is not already doing. 

The most common word for obedience in the New Testament (hupakouo) literally means “to listen under,” the sense of which is both understanding and responding to God’s voice. Perhaps that is a healthy way to understand obedience, that as we listen to God’s loving voice — through the Holy Spirit within us, through the Scriptures, and through our spiritual community — we respond in ways that are consistent with God’s promptings.  

But what about when we fail to respond to God’s voice? When we disobey?  

God will love us.  

Because that is who God is. 

This is the truth from which joyful obedience is born. 

I believe that my grandfather, who has since gone on to be with the Lord, is now delighted by the loving presence of God just as I am delighted at the thought of it. 

Josh’s Story
He grew up in a suburban church – equipped in all the ways many other young Christians are equipped.  He learned the books of the Bible, the names of the apostles, the major stories and characters of the Bible.  Josh went to a Christian college where he majored in Bible.  He learned Greek.  He learned exegesis and he even learned some basic counseling techniques.

Ten years later Josh was in his second ministry position in a suburban church similar to the one where he was raised.  Only this church presented Josh with a challenge.  The leadership had decided that their church was to become a disciple-making church. 

THAT was the challenge! 

While Josh had attended lots of Bible classes – virtually every Sunday for decades– no one had ever ‘discipled’ him the way he understood the term.  How could he disciple others if he had never been discipled?

Josh’s story raises several significant questions:

  1. What is the purpose of discipleship?
  2. What is the difference between intentional discipleship and religious education?

What If I Haven’t Been Discipled?
It is difficult to take others on a journey you have not taken yourself – especially a spiritual journey.  That does not mean that unless you have not done the exact same thing, you cannot lead others.  Yet, if you have never submitted yourself to another Christian and invited him or her to personally guide you deeper in faith, you probably should not play that role in the life of another.  There is a sacred trust borne of the risk you take by submitting to the influence of a fellow Christian.  Those you lead should know you have taken the same risk you are asking them to take.

The Purpose of Discipleship
The purpose of discipleship is to become like Christ.  Like the apostle Paul writes in 1 Cor. 11:1, ‘Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.’  It is important to note that biblical knowledge is beneficial for becoming like Christ, but it is not the end.  It is the means.  There is much more to say about the purpose of discipleship but learning to live like Christ tops the list.

Intentional Versus Religious Education
Religious education focuses on informing the head in hopes that it will influence the heart.  It guides the student in learning facts and proper interpretations believing that Christians will live the right way with the right knowledge.  Yet, history has shown us that just because people have Christian education does not mean their heart and their character has been formed into the image of Christ.  When we intentionally disciple others, we invite them to take a spiritual journey with us (‘follow me…’), and we intentionally guide them in the ways of Christ (‘and I will make you fishers of people…’).  Discipleship offers a personalized feedback loop that education generally lacks.

Discipleship Cohorts
Mission Alive’s intentional discipleship process, Discipleship Cohorts (DCs), invites participants on such a journey of transformation.  DCs are designed for Christians who have never been discipled themselves.  It helps them take a journey of discipleship and helps them begin to imagine discipling others.  It is highly reproducible and allows participants the freedom to adapt as they see fit for their context.  Once a participant takes DC1, the first level (16 weeks), they are invited into DC2, level 2, to learn with others how to lead discipleship groups (another 16 weeks).  For leaders whose must recruit and train other leaders who will lead discipleship groups, Mission Alive has DC3, level 3, that functions as a national learning community of discipleship network leaders – a safe place for discussing the challenges of recruiting and training local leaders.

If you want to come alongside others and help them live the life of Christ, if you are willing to open your life to them and develop an authentic relationship, if you want to develop a reproducing discipleship process, Mission Alive can help you.  Reach out to us at contact@missionalive.org.

In my work and ministry with college students, their biggest questions are: Why am I here? How am I gifted? Where do I go next? What should I do with my life? Who am I? Most of us have the same questions — regardless of age or stage of life — and they are all questions of discernment.

For the first 10 years of my journey as a follower of Christ, I associated the word “discernment” almost exclusively with the need to find the “right” path in order to end up in the specific life circumstances that God had in mind for me. Working with that definition, I was skeptical of discernment, because I am skeptical of the belief that God has a detailed life plan for each of us, with each relationship, each job, each destination, each meal planned out, leaving us to figure out which one is “correct.”

But discernment does not start with discerning the will of God for our lives. This facet of discernment is important and good, but it is not the starting place. Discernment starts with discerning the presence of God all around us. We come to know the character, thoughts, and preferences of a person by paying attention to their daily, ordinary words and actions. God is no different. We study to learn about God — just as we might read a biography about a historical figure — but knowing about someone does not equate to knowing them. To know God, we must first discern God’s presence in our lives, in our surroundings, and in our relationships before we can discern and obey God’s will for us. We must ask God, “Who are you?” before we are able to hear the answer to the secondary question, “What do you want me to do?” The good news is that God is eager to be known.

I use these four criteria for my own discernment processes and for helping college students discern where God is in their own lives. These criteria are not a formula for certainty, but are more like the four legs of a sturdy chair that we can be confident (if not certain) will support us as we seek God: (1) the indwelling of the Spirit, (2) the example of the Scriptures, (3) the voice of the community, and (4) the fruits of the judgment.

The Indwelling of the Spirit

Paying attention to the work of God in and around us helps us to know God better. It also helps us to become more Christ-like. As we seek to know God and open ourselves to the Spirit, we not only come to recognize what reflects the Spirit of God outside of us; we also come to recognize the Spirit of God within us. As our relationship with God grows in breadth and depth, we may trust our inner promptings and desires to reflect the character and will of God, too. No longer do we necessarily need to ask God everything and wait for an explicit answer; we can trust — like adult children of a loving parent who has shaped us well — in our own judgments.

However, as broken people, we must constantly maintain a healthy dose of skepticism that what we’re sensing is really from the Spirit of the Lord. This doesn’t need to be a shameful reality. Instead, our own limitations constantly redirect our attention back to the point of discernment: seeking to know God and opening ourselves to be known by God more. Like discernment itself, welcoming the Spirit into our lives and selves is primarily a relational process, so there is no destination to be reached, no moment at which we can claim arrival. There is always the potential for more, which requires a constant, radical openness to the indwelling of God. This is primarily an opportunity to deepen our experience of God; nevertheless, our own deceptive capacities necessitate three other legs of discernment so that we may move forward with decisions in confidence.

The Example of the Scriptures

One of the most important ways we come to know God and discern the Spirit in and around us is by immersing ourselves in the self-revelation of God through Scripture. We read Scripture in part because we want to know about God’s actions in the history of God’s people. We also read Scripture because we passionately love God, and the living nature of the story somehow prompts us to experience and know God’s self. As we immerse ourselves in the biblical story, and as we accept the invitation to participate in that story through the indwelling of the Spirit, we develop an intuition for what God values and where those values are or are not manifesting in our lives.

In cases in which we are discerning a specific path to take or choice to make, we must take the time to measure our inclinations and assessments against Scripture. This does not mean taking isolated verses or passages from the Bible as our “answer” from God. Proof-texting is an exceedingly dangerous method of discernment. Instead, we must look to the overarching themes, values, and principles that permeate the Bible and God’s nature as it’s revealed in Scripture, especially in the person of Jesus. Since even understanding and applying the Bible requires discernment, we clearly need three other legs to stand on in the discernment process.

The Voice of the Community

The third leg is listening to the input of a loving, trustworthy, and intimate community. As members of the Body of Christ, we not only have a responsibility to the community to which we belong, but we also have the opportunity to greatly benefit from the diverse experiences and perspectives of others. As we discern wise, healthy, God-honoring, and neighbor-loving decisions, the voices of those who are farther along in life than we are and who have different gifts than we do can help guide and affirm our decisions, and they can help us execute our decisions once we discern what to do.

Relying on communal voices is a vulnerable process. In an unhealthy environment, relying on others can lead to misdirection at best and abuse at worst. So relational discernment is also necessary to ensure one’s community is qualified and trustworthy: Does the community reflect Christ-like qualities, like love, hospitality, generosity, mutuality, humility, and peacemaking? In the context of a community like this, vulnerability is a gift rather than a liability.

The Fruits of the Judgment

Even with the sturdiness and reliability of the other three legs of discernment, making a decision is never a 100-percent certainty. No matter how confident we may be, God’s guidance and purposes are often only evident with hindsight. We are therefore responsible for looking back at the discernment process, the decision we made, and whether our choice bore the fruits of the Spirit in our lives and in the lives of others. After all, both Jesus and Paul encourage us to examine the fruits of a choice to discern whether it is from God. In short, past decisions and experiences inform our character, which informs future decisions and experiences, so looking back on the fruits of past decisions in our own lives and in the lives of others can help guide us in present and future discernment processes.

Looking back on discernment and realizing that we made a wrong turn should not be a source of shame, even if it is painful, and even if it requires repentance. God can redeem all things and work any situation for good. Disobedience is instead an opportunity to cultivate obedience. First, a poor decision is an opportunity to gain wisdom. This wisdom will serve us well in future discernment processes, and, if we are integrated into a community, that wisdom can help others avoid similar mistakes as well. Second, discernment gone awry is an opportunity to draw close to God. God is uniquely present in our struggles and sufferings, and God knows full well what it means to be human, which means God knows how difficult it is for us as we struggle to discern and obey. Finally, misperceptions of God’s will can be a hopeful reminder to us that God desires for us to flourish. As people of hope, we can stand firm in the love of God, even when we recognize the moments when we have failed to do just that.

I hadn’t ever thought about until recently, but, is it possible that living an uncluttered life is a spiritual discipline?  My maternal grandfather, “Father Bear,” was a hoarder. And when I say hoarder, yes he was just like the unimaginable type they film for cable TV — his house was beyond disgusting. Coming up through the Great Depression he eventually saved everything from all the newspapers that came across his table, empty cans of dog food, to the seeds of the fruit he ate.  I grew into adulthood abhorring clutter, also witnessing my parents following Father Bear’s example. Maybe you can relate to such an experience too? 

Are you ready to hear about a resource from a strong chrisitan woman’s voice that addresses decluttering all aspects of our lives?  It’s the book that triggered the question in my mind that decluttering might just be a spiritual discipline.  It’s my honor to commend Angie Hyche on a book well-written and to recommend to you her “Unholy Mess: What the Bible Says About Clutter.” 

Less is more, so I won’t boil down a prize ox into a bouillon cube by summarizing her entire book point by point. I hope, instead, to entice you to pick up her book and see for yourself how much better your life can be when you apply the principles she lays out. Her holistic approach holds more profound implications than simply tidying up your basement, though.

Maybe you’re thinking we don’t need another book on organization, but maybe it’s time for a book written from a Christian perspective. And that’s where Angie’s book comes in — her aim is to feed your soul and help shape your perspectives on your relationship with God and to navigate the areas of your life where being better organized (your attention, your schedule, and yes your possessions) will bring you more peace and joy. She wants to help us tame the chaos to experience the abundant life Jesus promises.

Angie packs “Unholy Mess” with ample research and statistics. She cites several studies and articles, and she sprinkles in volumes of vulnerability — she doesn’t claim to be perfect, and she won’t shame you. If you want to assess your values and priorities, Angie’s book is helpful, plus she isn’t dogmatic and her theology isn’t “Do this or you’re a sinner.” Instead, she provides Scriptures at nearly every turn of the page that help us prioritize our actions and our views, while confronting the cognitive dissonance we struggle with when we allow disorder to run amok.

We all need coaching in establishing healthy boundaries and the motivation to change. With clear writing and experience to back up her ideas, “Unholy Mess” will help you to adjust your habits and your attitudes, again all from a Christian approach/perspective. You’ll be encouraged and uplifted along the way as you learn about ways to apply the many practical strategies she offers. She offers a great filter on how to organize our lives: Declutter, arrange, and then maintain.

One of the aspects I liked most about Angie’s book were the reflective questions she provides to help you as you try to set realistic goals. The initial third of the book primarily addresses our relationship with God, the next third transitions to the “how to,” and the last third —which was my favorite part of the book — covers the obstacles to decluttering and how to manage our future so we don’t fall back into our old habits.

Some of the big takeaways I found to be extremely helpful were her thoughts on being purposeful with our possessions, her stewardship strategies, and how she aptly blended theology with theory, philosophy and application. She does so, balancing topics covering the physical mess we observe along with the inability we wrestle with to be fully present, like with others over a meal, and how much more of an abundant life God has for us when we overcome the chaos.

This book is a great resource, and it has a lot of potential for small group ministries. Certainly your small group could go through the book together, but that’s not my point. How often have you been embarrassed to have company over because your countertops haven’t seen daylight and the couch is hidden under a pile … OK, I know that’s an exaggeration, but my point is, many people feel uncomfortable inviting people over when their house isn’t up to the standard they would like it to be. So this book will help us with the ministry of hospitality and help us as the church to open our homes to others more as we tame the chaos.

I know minimalism is in vogue these days, but I assure you Angie isn’t preaching privation and asceticism. She simply offers a better way to contentment as you organize the space you occupy, free up a lot more of your time, and experience more joy than you ever will when your inner and outer life are cluttered. The consequences of a cluttered life simply aren’t worth it, and Angie will show you clearly that clutter is not a burden we were designed to carry.

I believe that we are saved by faith. I think the Bible makes that abundantly clear. What isn’t always clear to us modern readers is what the Bible means by the “faith.”

What it doesn’t mean is intellectual assent. Static, lifeless belief. James makes that clear when he writes, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder” (James 2:19).

The word translated faith includes the concept of faithfulness and loyalty. The late Jay Guin wrote on his blog,

Well, we need to understand the meaning of “faith.” We take “faith” to mean that we accept the truth of what is said. We “believe” the person speaking. But the thought is deeper.

Josephus was a First Century Jew and a soldier. He tells a story of a soldier under his command who was disloyal. He caught him and threatened his life. He then told him to repent and be loyal to Josephus and he’d spare his life, giving him a second chance.

Well, the word translated “be loyal” is what we translate in the Bible as “believe.” He literally told the soldier to “believe in me.” He didn’t claim to be deity. He just wanted the man’s loyalty. You see, “faith” includes “faithfulness.”
(Jay Guin, https://oneinjesus.info/2011/03/real-restoration-abrahams-covenant-with-god-part-1/)

In his book, Paul: A Biography, N.T. Wright makes a similar point:

One obvious Greek term for “loyalty” is one of Paul’s favorite words, pistis, regularly translated “faith,” but often carrying the overtones of “faithfulness,” “reliability,” and, yes, “loyalty.” The word pistis could mean “faith” in the sense of “belief”—what was believed as well as the fact of believing, or indeed the act of believing, which already seems quite enough meaning for one small word. But pistis could also point to the personal commitment that accompanies any genuine belief, in this case that Jesus was now “Lord,” the world’s rightful sovereign. Hence the term means “loyalty” or “allegiance.” This was what Caesar demanded from his subjects. (Paul: A Biography, N.T. Wright, Kindle location 1360)

We aren’t saved by works. We can’t do the right things in order to be justified before God. Like Abraham, we are justified by our faith.

And like Abraham, we are justified by faithfully living our lives in accordance with our belief in God, in accordance with the commitment to loyalty that we have made. We are saved by faithfulness, loyalty to God. Though the word may scare us, we are saved by obedience.

The belief we have in God leads us to do good works … or we haven’t really believed in God. The belief we have in God leads us to action … or we haven’t really believed in God.

That’s why the great chapter on faith, Hebrews 11, is full of action verbs. By faith Abel offered a better sacrifice. By faith Noah built an ark. By faith Abraham obeyed when called and went. By faith Abraham offered Isaac. By faith … well, you get the idea.

As Wright says in the passage above, genuine belief is accompanied by personal commitment. If you believe, you do. You act. You obey.

If you don’t act on your belief, you haven’t truly believed. We are saved, in that way, by faithfulness.

This month the column commemorates the passion of our Lord Jesus.

At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split, and the tombs broke open… 
~ Matthew 27:51-52a

Did the angels
Those sinew-armed strongmen of the ages
Sweat great drops of celestial self-control

Did tears run down the faces
Of those who continually see the Face

Did holy muscles tremble and twitch
at being restrained
at seeing urgency and being forbidden
at hearing the cries and stopping their unearthly ears

Did eternal eyes flinch and close against the sight
Of a Savior they couldn’t save?

All Creation, we are told in the book of Romans, groans as it awaits redemption. How much more the powerful, unaging messengers of God—those who sang of his birth, who ministered to his loneliness in the Garden—how would they have agonized as they watched, helpless, as their Master’s life seeped away, at the hands of godless men?

——————————————

Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds.
~ John 19:38-39

Joseph and Nicodemus

What a disheveled heap
This bled-out bone bag makes
Crusted with spit and sweat
Entrusted with threats to the two of us

The workman’s wiry muscles, now slack
Are pitiful as they break through the flayed skin
But the blood—it is all gone, tired of flowing
Clotted and forgotten at the dirt footer of
The flogging pole
And of course
That cross

We avert from each other
But we cannot stop our own tears
Squeezed out between our eyelids
That should shield us from what we see here:
The candlewax pallor

The shamed nakedness we wash and cover first
To give the modesty the audience denied
Our towels dipped in the pots
We lugged down the stairs
The water pinks now
In the lamplight

Part by part
Limb by limb
We dampen and rub away
All the vestiges on
The shell of a delivered-over spirit

One of the winding cloths rolls below the ledges
We reel it in and wrap his arms
From the swaddles on our grizzled forearms

We have grown wrinkles under our tears
The weight is almost beyond our old-men strength
We heft and lean
Balance and wrap

The acrid spices
The confined space
Bring more tears
More tears

We find we do not need
The water any more

True friendship means standing by someone in all the stages of life—and in the final stage of death. Even though His lifeless body could no longer bless and heal, His friends treated it with respect, preparing it for a final resting place. Little did they know that it would soon be walking and talking and leaving those grave clothes behind!

Dr. Latayne C. Scott is the recipient of Pepperdine University’s Distinguished Christian Service Award for “Creative Christian Writing,” and is Trinity Southwest University’s Author in Residence. Her newest book is Talking with Teens about Sexuality: Critical Conversations about Social Media, Gender Identity, Same-Sex Attraction, Pornography, Purity, Dating, Etc. with Dr. Beth Robinson (Bethany Books.) The author of over two dozen published books, including Passion, Power, Proxy, Release (TSU Press) in which these poems appear, she lives and writes in New Mexico. She maintains two websites: Latayne.com and Representationalresearch.com.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.

Matthew 28:19-20a

The imperative to “make disciples” is part of Jesus’s last words to his disciples in the Gospel of Matthew. The following two participles (baptizing and teaching) are instrumental in this process. In part, disciples are made by baptizing them into the community of the Father, Son, and Spirit, and they are also continuously formed (made) by teaching them to follow what Jesus taught.

Baptism is a dynamic movement into the life of God. Disciples are baptized into the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit. It is a movement into (which is literally what the text says; e.g. ASV) the communion of God, which gives disciples a sense of belonging to the family of the one (“name,” not names) God of Israel. Baptism is our entrance into the community of God to live among the people of God in the church of Jesus Christ (Matthew 16:18; 18:17).

Teaching is also a dynamic activity. Discipling is a process that not only begins before baptism but continues after it. Disciples are formed by teaching that is based on the life and words of Jesus. This includes—if it is not, in fact, the focus—the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, which concludes with a call to the wise living, which is obedience to the words of Jesus. Disciples of Jesus teach the teachings of Jesus (Matthew 7:24-29).

Discipling is not limited to one class or group within the community of God.

The heirs of the Restoration Movement have long recognized that baptism is not a clerical act, limited to the clergy in the community. We have wonderfully modeled the priesthood of all believers by affirming everyone’s privilege to baptize another, particularly one whom they have led to Christ. As Alexander Campbell said, “When then any one desires baptism, any one to whom he applies may administer it” (Campbell-Rice Debate, p. 580).  There are no clerical boundaries to baptizing another, though pragmatically this often fell to the “preacher” in many congregations.

But the priesthood of all believers disappears when gender is introduced into the discussion. And the exclusion of women from baptizing anyone has a long history in the Restoration Movement. For example, Campbell also said, “We never, by word or action, sanctioned either females or minors as baptists” (p. 584). There are, it is argued, no examples of women baptizing anyone. Therefore, women are excluded. (We might remember there are no examples of women eating the Lord’s supper either.)

In effect, this limits Matthew 28:19-20a to males. If women cannot baptize anyone, this means they cannot obey the command of Jesus to “make disciples” in the way Jesus told his disciples to make disciples. Are not women as well as men told to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing. . .”?

Further, to “make disciples” is not only to baptize them but to continue to teach them as well. Yet, the practice of many congregations is not only to exclude women from baptizing but also to exclude them from teaching. This exclusion comes in many forms, and not all exclusivists agree on the degree of the exclusion and its particulars.  This excludes women from private teaching, leading small groups, instructing Bible classes where men are present, and sermons as well as other forms of teaching. Some, however, only exclude women from sermonizing in the assembly, or perhaps even more narrow—speaking authoritatively for the church. In other words, when it comes to identifying the teaching from which women are excluded, it is a continuum of judgments, inferences, and applications.

If women are to make disciples, it is difficult to exclude them from the very process Jesus identified for disciple-making. If Matthew 28:19-20a is a call for disciples to make disciples, it is a call for both men and women to make disciples by baptizing and teaching the discipled.

Women, then, are invited to baptize and teach as part of the discipling ministry of the followers of Jesus.

I realize that the previous sentence is relativized by some who maintain that 1 Timothy 2:12 not only prohibits women from teaching men (in whatever form such teaching is envisioned) but also from having authority over them. Consequently, it is suggested by some that baptism is an authoritative act (bordering on a clericalism) within the community and women cannot, therefore, baptism anyone and certainly not men. A single text, it appears, delimits the disciple-making Jesus commanded on the part of women in the community of God. For some, it excludes them from baptizing anyone, and for many it only excludes them from representing the church through authoritative speech (whatever form that may take).

While this is not the place, due to limitations of space, to seek a better understanding of 1 Timothy 2:12, a few comments are appropriate. The sort of teaching envisioned in 1 Timothy 2 is not disciple-making but abusive domination of another. Paul, it seems to me, forbids some women, who had been deceived by false teachers, from aggressively attempting to persuade men. They were belligerently overwhelming others and leading them into the clutches of Satan by spreading false myths rather than submitting to the truth of the gospel, the mystery of godliness. (For more on this way of reading 1 Timothy 2:12, see my video here:

To use 1 Timothy 2:12 to limit women in disciple-making, whether in baptizing others or teaching others, is not only to abuse 1 Timothy 2:12 but to subvert the commission of Jesus intended for his disciples, both men and women. I see no reason to delimit or restrict the meaning of the word “teach” in Matthew 28:20. Women are authorized to teach, and the only text that might say otherwise is filled with difficulties of language, grammar, context, and meaning. It seems to me, Matthew 28:19-20 provides the horizon for all disciple-making, baptizing and teaching.

In answer to the call of Jesus, everyone, both male and female, may baptize and teach others. Everyone is called to make disciples.

“Contrary to popular thinking that young people want it easy, many told us they love their church because their church inspires them to act.”

—Powell, Mulder & Griffin, Growing Young, p. 143.

After a decade of full-time ministry, one of the most consistent themes I’ve heard from parents (and grandparents) is their deep longing to see their children become lifelong disciples of Jesus. As a parent of two boys (and a daughter on the way), I’m right there with them. Chances are, if you are a parent, or church leader, or someone who simply cares deeply about the future of the church, you have a passionate desire to reach young people with the Gospel message of Jesus.

And you’re probably feeling frustrated about how that’s been going. 

Although there’s been a prodigious amount of research done on the topic of how and why so many teenagers drop out of church when they graduate high school, you probably don’t need to read that research to know it’s a serious problem. All you need to do is take a look around your church and see a (mostly) missing generation.

If you did decide to dive into this research, you’d come across this central message over and over:

“American young people are, theoretically, fine with religious faith—but it does not concern them very much, and it is not durable enough to survive long after they graduate from high school. And one more thing: we’re responsible.”

Kenda Creasy Dean, Almost Christian, p. 3.

If you’re like me and feel an urgent burden from the Holy Spirit to do something about that, it’s time to take Jesus seriously.

That’s one of the primary messages in the book Growing Young: Six Essential Strategies to Help Young People Discover and Love Your Church. In 2016, researchers from the Fuller Youth Institute published this groundbreaking material which explored the key commitments of churches from across the country that were successfully reaching and discipling young people. 

Growing and Going

As disciples of Jesus, we need a mix of challenge and comfort to be formed into mature Christians. In the Gospels, we see this in the way Jesus intentionally trained his disciples for ministry through a pattern of growing and going. Jesus called his disciples to him in quiet, private locations to teach them and mentor them. These were moments of growing. And then he went out with them to do real ministry in the towns and villages they visited. These were moments of going

In fact, in Mark 8:1-10:15, we see a perfectly balanced rhythm of growing and going:

  • Feeding the 4,000 • Mark 8:1-13 • Going
  • Teaching the Disciples • Mark 8:14-21 • Growing
  • Healing a Blind Man • Mark 8:22-26 • Going
  • Teaching the Disciples • Mark 8:27-33 • Growing
  • Teaching the Crowds • Mark 8:34-9:1 • Going
  • Transfiguration • Mark 9:2-13 • Growing
  • Healing a Child • Mark 9:14-27 • Going
  • Teaching the Disciples • Mark 9:30-50 • Growing
  • Teaching the Crowds • Mark 10:1-9 • Going
  • Teaching the Disciples • Mark 10:10-12 • Growing
  • Blessing the Children • Mark 10:13-15 • Going

Most Churches I’ve been part of have done exceeding well at the growing (“called in”) part of this rhythm. But for all the growing that we do through sermon and Bible classes and retreats and life groups Bible reading plans, we don’t always follow through by going out to do ministry in meaningful ways.

And that’s where we are losing young people. Young people have a passionate desire to do something significant with their lives, and they’re disillusioned by churches that focus so much on growing that they neglect the going.

But Jesus never gave us the option of choosing one or the other. Although our natural D.N.A. or spiritual gifts might favor one or the other—growing or going—we are called to do both: consistently, intentionally, and faithfully. 

And the story of Peter shows us the importance of that.

Called as Disciples, Sent as Apostles

When Jesus first encountered Peter the fisherman (Matthew 4), he calls him to “follow me,” the language of discipleship. The word disciple means a student who follows in the footsteps of their master, with the goal of learning everything they can from him. After a season of encouraging, training, and mentoring Peter, Jesus chose a new designation for him: apostle (Matthew 10). The word apostle comes from a Greek word that means to send someone on a mission. Jesus’ rhythm of growing and going from Mark 8-10 is a parallel to the ideas of discipleship and apostleship. 

Peter was a disciple (growing) and an apostle (going). Jesus spent time training him and teaching him the core truths of the Kingdom of God, and then sent him out on mission to live out those values in a practical way. 

Churches that think the key to reaching young people is by making the Gospel message as easy and comfortable as possible are misreading the desires of the young people they so desperately want to reach. And they are neglecting the rhythm of growing and going that Jesus gives us in the Gospels.

Instead, if we want to see our kids and grandkids become lifelong disciples of Jesus, we need to take Jesus seriously—not just in the truths he teaches us to believe, but in the mission he calls us to accomplish. When churches make a grace-filled appeal to live out the values and mission of the Kingdom in their local community, they not only engage the young people God has entrusted to their care, but they live out one of the most important ministry principles Jesus gives us: growing and going. 

Raising the Bar

So don’t be afraid to call your people to a higher standard of living. Raise the bar of what it means to follow Jesus, while raising the bar of grace. Your church will embrace the call to take Jesus seriously and will be inspired by their faith community that is striving to follow Jesus together.

“In short, teenagers and emerging adults in churches growing young aren’t running from a gospel that requires hard things of them. They are running towards it.”

Growing Young, p. 143.