Loving, Learning, & Leaving

After this trip, I should never again complain about being “too tired.” I know God works miracles, because I was somehow at all of the counselor meetings every day at 8 a.m. Let me just say that jet lag is something I’m glad I don’t have to experience every day of my life. This trip was my first time traveling out of the country and while I am very ready to be home with my family, there is also a part of me that wishes I could stay in Barcelona with the kids from the JPC camp.

These kids came from all different socioeconomic groups and backgrounds and family situations. God allowed me this week to get a glimpse of the stories of all the kids at the camp. To my surprise, many of us formed friendships with the kids despite the language barrier. The kids at the camp were intrigued by us Americans and often found our lack of ability to speak Spanish confusing, yet funny.

One of the things our team quickly discovered was that music, singing, laughing, and playing games together allowed us to form relationships with the kids at the camp. The first day of camp we taught some of the kids a game called Ninja, and later during the week I saw multiple groups of kids playing Ninja with each other. Another time we really connected with the kids was through our morning worship time. Every day Nate led everyone in a fun song called “Every Move I Make.” There were motions to go along with the lyrics and doing these motions with the kids gave everyone a good laugh. It was so amazing to hear the kids singing the worship songs on the way to the pool later in the day or while they worked on their crafts in the afternoon.

God showed me the importance of love and the willingness to serve this past week. The tiredness I spoke of experiencing earlier never went away. Even as I write this, I feel the lack of sleep weighing on me. But through the exhaustion, I am content knowing I was part of something incredible for the past week. Our American team and the Spanish counselors were able to witness God working in the hearts of so many kids that came to Christ at the end of the week.

If someone had asked me at the beginning of the week if I thought I was going to enjoy my week with about 70 seven to eleven year olds, most of whom don’t speak any English, I would have said you were crazy. I didn’t see a place for myself at that camp, and I was extremely homesick. But as we all know, God works in funny ways sometimes. Our day was loaded with different activities and tasks that distracted me from missing my family and friends at home. I asked God to help me to not think about the things I wanted and rather focus on the things He wanted me to do over the course of the week. While at some moments it was hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel (i.e. picking lice out of a six-year-olds beautiful, long hair for an hour), I am realizing that every single thing that happened was meant to teach us something, whether it was patience, love, or even just moments meant to remind us that some people need the love of Christ but are blind to it because of materialistic things obscuring their view of the true love of Jesus.

So as we’re about to leave for the airport, I cannot help but feel so incredibly thankful and blessed to have been able to love on the Spanish kids. We learned things from them, and they learned things from us. As we said “adios” yesterday, kids came up to all of us saying, “We will miss you.” This didn’t make leaving any easier, but it was proof that we really impacted the lives of the kids during the week we spent with them. I know for many of us this week gave us a reason to return to Spain, and I cannot wait to see how the Youth for Christ organization continues to change lives.

By Emma Nelson

2017 Destination: Spain

We made it to our gate; everyone’s enjoying dinner now :-). Thanks for your prayers! Weather is a little rough outside; please keep this matter in your prayers! See you on the other side of the pond.

Recapturing the Great Commission: Part Two

Exciting Opportunities at West Lisbon

We have an exciting month ahead of us at West Lisbon Church in the area of World Missions. This Sunday, March 12th at noon, our Destination: Spain and REACH Mission Teams will host a Missions Auction & Breakfast to raise financial and prayer support. Find out more here.

Additionally, the WLC Missions Committee will host our annual Missions Conference on March 18–19th. Our guest speaker for the weekend is Dr. Greg Parsons. Greg is the current Director of Global Connections at Frontier Ventures. Frontier describes itself as

We are a community of dreamers and doers who long to see Jesus worshipped in the earth’s darkest corners.

Pretty awesome. Greg is also engaged in the leadership of the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. If this guy doesn’t fan the flame of world missions in your soul . . . you may want to check your pulse!! Find out more here.

In light of all of these exciting, learning, and serving experiences, I thought that I would focus the February and March Messenger articles on the Great Commission of Matthew 28:16–20. In this month’s edition, we’ll take a look at the words of Jesus’ commission.

Matthew 28:18–20 (ESV)

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

The Words of the Great Commission

Last month, we looked at the setting of the commission in verses 16–17, and we discovered first that the people of the commission are described as the eleven, second that the place of the commission is described as the mountain in Galilee, and third that the faith of the commissioned is described as “little” or mixed with doubt. The Lord would commission this group knowing their “little faith.” Today, I think we’ll see why he could and would commission an imperfect group of eleven to begin his global mission. Now, let’s move our attention to the words of the commission spoken by the resurrected Lord Jesus Christ.
Authority

Authority

First, Jesus spoke of his authority. Verse 18 reveals two things about this authority: (1) It is total in scope, and (2) it is legitimate in nature. The totality of the scope of Jesus’ authority is expressed by the word “all” and by the phrase “in heaven and on earth.” The term “all” is used again with “authority” in 1 Corinthians 15:54 (NET), “Then comes the end, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father, when he has brought to an end all rule and all authority and power.” This speaks of the future time when Jesus has nullified all other bearers of ruling authority. The little word “all” carries a lot of theological weight! Think totality—any, every, each level or part. All authority. While “in heaven and on earth” implies the universal scope of Jesus’ authority, it particularly emphasizes the authority Jesus possesses in every realm—both heavenly and earthly, over the spiritual realm and the natural realm. Jonathan Pennington writes in his book Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew,

He has achieved authority in both realms and his followers can now live in hope for his heavenly authority to one day be manifested throughout the earth . . . This has been inaugurated by Jesus’ resurrection and will be consummated at his Parousia [second coming]. Additionally, Jesus’ authority in both heavenly and earthly realms now transforms the disciples’ mission. Originally, Jesus endowed his disciples with his authority and sent them to preach the kingdom of heaven only to true people of the land of Israel (10:5–7). After the resurrection, they are re-commissioned to preach to all nations (205).

With the resurrection from the dead, the scope of Jesus’ authority expanded not only over the whole creation but across both heavenly and earthly realms.

His authority is not only total in scope, but it is also legitimate in nature. Our world is full of people claiming to have authority and power, but is it legitimate? At the 2017 Moody Founder’s Week, Dr. Tony Evans shared a funny story about legitimate and illegitimate authority. When he was chaplain with the Dallas Cowboys, he had special access and privileges because of his rights and position as chaplain. I believe it was his son that wanted to go with him to a game one day. Dr. Evans explained to his son that if he traveled with him in his car, then he could get special parking, privileged access, reserved seating, so on and so forth; however, if he decided to travel to the game on his own, he wouldn’t benefit from any of his father’s legitimate authority. You see, it was attached to his name and person, not to his son’s name and person. This reminds the reader of Daniel 7:13–14 (ESV), which reads,

I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.

The Greek term is ἐξουσία (ex-zoo-sia), and in this context it means “the right to control or command, absolute power, warrant.” By virtue of his identity as the beloved Son and his finished and faithful work in his death and resurrection, he possesses legitimate authority.
Commission

Commission

Second, Jesus gave his commission. “Therefore” connects the scope and nature of Jesus’ authority to the commission that he will give to his disciples. The primary command “Go . . . make” is an urgent one. We find a similar phrase with similar urgency in Matthew 2:13–14 (NET),

After they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother and flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to look for the child to kill him.” Then he got up, took the child and his mother during the night, and went to Egypt.

The angel’s command to Joseph employs the same grammatical urgency Jesus used in his commission—“Go, hurry, now, don’t delay—and make disciples!” Too often, we hear the commission like this, “As you go, make disciples,” but this misses the grammatical urgency Jesus intentionally puts into his commission. They are to urgently make “disciples.” Disciples are learners of Jesus. Don’t forget that Jesus is commissioning imperfect disciples to go and make more disciples, so that the task of disciple-making is a task every Christian shares. As Jonathan Pennington noted in the quote above, the mission expanded beyond Israel to “all nations” because Jesus has “all authority.” Acts 1:8 describes the commission as a local, national, and global witness to the person and work of Jesus Christ. We are to make disciples among the familiar and among the unfamiliar, among the near and the far, among those like us and among those unlike us.

Two participles describe the activity of disciple-making: baptizing and teaching. The term “baptize” by itself implies dipping or immersing. It was used in the dyeing of garments, so that when a white garment was “baptized” into a dye, it came out of the dye changed and transformed. A broad study in the New Testament reveals that Christian baptism has a threefold nature. First, it is confessional. Even here in Jesus’ commission, we see the implied confession of the Trinity—there is one God who eternally exists as three persons: Father, Son, and Spirit. Notice that it isn’t “names,” but “name” in verse 19. A baptized disciple confesses the Trinity and the person and work of Jesus Christ, because his death and resurrection is symbolized in the immersion. Second, baptism is transformational. It is an act of public repentance from the old life of sin, and the public pledge of a new, sanctified life. Third, baptism is communal. The baptized disciple expresses his or her desire to belong to the body of believers, and the body of believers acknowledges the confession of the baptized and accepts him or her into their community.

Teaching refers to instruction in both informal and formal settings. Remember, Jesus taught in small groups, in crowds, in parables, while traveling, while eating, while debating, while caring for the sick and oppressed. His settings were varied, but he was always teaching the twelve. Specifically, the disciples were charged to make disciples, teaching them to observe all that Jesus had commanded them. The term “observe” can mean “to persist in obedience”or to keep and guard. With all the language of heaven and earth and men being entrusted to keep and guard something once again, my mind travels back to the creation of the heavens and the earth, and man placed in the garden of Eden to cultivate it and to keep it. Jesus has established a new humanity with a new commission. Disciple-makers must make disciples who obey and keep the commandments of Jesus, and we must do it in such a way that disciples know how to make disciple.
Presence

Presence

Finally, Jesus spoke of presence. The Gospel of Matthew began,

This all happened so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet would be fulfilled: “Look! The virgin will conceive and bear a son, and they will call him Emmanuel,’ which means ‘God with us” (Matthew 1:22–23 NET).

It ends with a great commission followed with the assurance of the Commissioner’s presence, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” The term “always” literally reads “all the days” or “the whole of every day.” We may understand this as his moment by moment presence accompanying us in the mission. Yet, it is also a presence that lasts until the consummation of the age. Jesus is guiding and directing his disciples in his mission by his legitimate authority in every moment all the way until we can all say: “Mission Accomplished!” And so, he forever connects his commission of the church in history to the end of the age. Ecclesiology and eschatology are connected. The mission now and his return later are in relationship.

Recapture the Great Commission

Therefore, given Jesus’ total and legitimate authority, his clear and urgent commission, and his momentary and enduring presence, are you encouraged to go and make disciples? You lack nothing that is needed to participate in the Great Commission. So what holds you back from making disciples? Seriously, try to answer that question. Is it an authority problem? Is it a problem with the instructions? Is it a need for the assurance of Jesus’ presence? He has answered all of these things for us. Are you worried that you have little faith? He still commissions you, as he did his disciples. He equips you with the Holy Spirit. Maybe you feel that you missed out on discipleship of your own. I’ve met many Christians who have felt this way. If you realize this need, then go get discipled! If you haven’t been baptized, then do it. If you need to be taught what Jesus taught, then find someone willing to teach you. Pray for God to provide this person or group.

Many times, however, the problem that causes us not to participate in disciple-making is that we simply don’t want to make disciples. Such an investment interrupts our “status quo” living. Walking alongside people in their week-to-week with the intent of helping them follow Jesus to a point that they themselves are then able to make disciples can be messy business. It can take a long time, and it can be frustrating— just think of how patient Jesus was when his disciples worried about bread that they forgot . . . loaves and fishes anyone?! I think sometimes too we feel that disciple-making requires more or additional . . . one more thing that I don’t have time for . . . like reading this blog! But perhaps, disciple-making doesn’t require additional, maybe it requires an intentional rethinking of your week. I am guessing that everyone reading this eats food, sometimes even three times a day. Why not intentionally pick out some weekly meals that you’re going to share with someone who needs to learn the way of Jesus? You’re already eating, just be intentional. Brothers and sisters, Jesus commissioned us . . . all of us . . . if we love him, then we’ve got to go. Let’s figure it out together. I am teaching a Sunday School Class right now at West Lisbon called Discipleship with Jesus and the Apostles on Sunday mornings at 9am. We are talking about this very topic. Come and join us. It’s one way to get started. Take advantage of some of the other opportunities coming up at WLC!

Recapturing the Great Commission: Part One

Great Commission

Exciting Opportunities at West Lisbon

We have an exciting two months ahead of us at West Lisbon Church in the area of World Missions. This Sunday evening, February 12th at 6pm, Mark and Stephanie Dodrill will be with us at Family Mission Fellowship to share about Youth for Christ’s work in Barcelona, Spain and about their home assignment. It is also exciting because West Lisbon is sending a team to work with Mark and Stephanie in Spain this summer! By the way, there is still one spot available on the Destination: Spain team.

Then in March, the Missions Committee will host our annual Missions Conference on March 18–19th. Our guest speaker for the weekend is Dr. Greg Parsons. Greg is the current Director of Global Connections at Frontier Ventures. Frontier describes itself in this way:

We are a community of dreamers and doers who long to see Jesus worshipped in the earth’s darkest corners.

Pretty awesome. Greg is also engaged in the leadership of the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement. If this guy doesn’t fan the flame of world missions in your soul . . . you may want to check your pulse!!

In light of all of these exciting learning and serving experiences before us, I thought that I would spend the next two Messenger articles on the Great Commission of Matthew 28:16–20. In this month’s edition, we’ll examine the setting of Jesus’ commission. Next month, we’ll take a look at the words of Jesus’ commission.

Matthew 28:16–17 (ESV)

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted.

The Setting of the Great Commission

“The Great Commission” as a title for Matthew 28:16–20 may have its origin in the first decade of the 1900s. It may have first appeared as a title for this text in the Scofield Reference Bible of 1909. Since then, it has enjoyed a place of prominence among the commissioning passages of the New Testament (e.g., Luke 24:44–49; Acts 1:8). Let’s take a look at the setting of the commission that precedes the words of the commission.

First, the people of the commission are described. The description of the group shocks the reader of Matthew’s commission passage. It is the “eleven.” The absence of one of the twelve recalls the evil and fall of Judas—one who had spent so much time with Jesus, betrayed him and was lost. We are soberly reminded by the word “eleven” that simply being present and in the crowd associated with Jesus does not correlate to genuine loyalty and discipleship. This does not mean—as some falsely presume—that the commission was ONLY for the eleven. Remember, Matthew wrote his Gospel with a Christian community in mind, who would receive and act upon his retelling of the life and work of Jesus Christ. The commission began with the eleven, but the text assumes that the church of all ages will take up this cause.

Second, the place of the commission is described. Jesus had told them that he himself would go ahead of them and meet them in Galilee after he was resurrected (Matthew 26:30–32; 28:10). After the Passover festival had finished, the disciples appeared to have returned home to Galilee to meet Jesus (see also John 20:26–21:14). As the time for his ascension drew near, it seems that they had returned to Jerusalem (Acts 1:1–11). Perhaps more significant, Matthew mentions that their meeting took place on “the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.” Mountaintop-experiences are an important theme in the Gospel of Matthew. Consider all that happened on mountains:

  • Temptation (4:8)
  • Teaching—Sermon on the Mount (5:1ff)
  • Prayer (14:23)
  • Healing (15:29)
  • Transfiguration (17:1, 9)
  • Triumphal Entry Prep (21:1)
  • Teaching—Olivet Discourse (24:3)

And now, Jesus calls his eleven disciples to the mountain for their commissioning.

Lastly, the faith of the commissioned is described. Notice that Matthew describes the presence of both worship AND doubt. It helps to explore this concept within Matthew’s gospel to find out what he means by this. For example, James seems to teach that there is a sense in which faith and doubt cannot coexist (e.g., 1:6–8). Jude, however, teaches us to be merciful to doubters (v. 22). Paul in Romans warns about doubts with regard to conscious and ethical decisions (14:23). So, context seems to be key. Clearly, doubt is a danger to the spiritual life if it persists, pervades, and is permanent; however, don’t we all struggle with some degree of doubt? I think this is where Matthew’s “theology” of doubt is helpful to us. Imagine the relationship of faith and doubt in Matthew’s gospel like a cup, where the empty space represents “Doubt” and the filled space represents “Faith”:


clipart of an almost empty glass of water

Throughout the Gospel of Matthew is what Grant Osborne calls the motif of “little faith.” Check out 6:30; 8:26; 14:31; 16:8. I tend to agree with Osborne that what is being described here in Matthew 28:17 by the concept of doubt in the midst of worship is simply another way of describing the theme of “little faith” that has been a regular description of Jesus’ disciples throughout the book. Put simply, their faith isn’t mature yet. They have faith, but it’s small. It is largely an immature faith at this point. The Holy Spirit and their witnessing will help to grow their faith, so that in time their faith may look something like this:

clipart of an almost empty glass of water

I’m not sure that doubt is ever totally eliminated from the spiritual life. James, Paul, and Jude exhort us about doubt for exactly this reason. However, I do think that faith and trust in God grows throughout the spiritual life. But come back with me to the setting of Jesus’ commissioning in Matthew 28:17. Is it really possible that the resurrected Jesus is about to entrust the expansion of his kingdom and the establishment of his church to eleven or so worshippers who are having doubts? Well, that’s certainly what the text says, isn’t it?

What does that mean for you? Have you been thinking that all of your doubts have to be gone before you effectively serve Jesus? Do you feel that you have to possess all of the answers before you can be sent to make disciples? Jesus certainly didn’t expect this of his original eleven. Why do you think he expects it of you? Fellow Christian, don’t allow your “little faith” to cause you to do “little disciple-making.” As we see in the book of Acts, the experience of the Holy Spirit’s ministry as we witness and make disciples increases our faith. Part of the excitement and fun of making disciples is becoming learners of Jesus together. I hope you’ll put your little faith to work in the Great Commission. Go on; step out of the boat and into the Great Commission! Next time, we’ll see that Jesus tells us everything our little faith needs to thrive in Christ’s commission.