Small Puffy Pouch Discipleship

My experience at Western Seminary was solid; and by “solid” I mean both awesome and immovable.  Part of what made it solid was a few experiential learning classes.  Dr. Carl Laney was the innovator behind the classes, though I suspect he would say he was simply following the model of Jesus.  Each summer he would lead a Bible class that met off campus.  The two that I took were on the book of John and the book of Psalms.  For the John class we spent a week camping and hiking through the Olallie Scenic area in the Mt. Hood National Forest.  For the Psalms class we spent a week at a beach house in Yachats, Oregon.  By “week” I mean five days and four nights and by “we” I mean Dr. Laney and a small group of students; usually between 6 and 10.  The biblically centered content, the size of the groups, the length of the trips, and the setting of the classes were just the right ingredients for rich experiences, both relationally and personally.  These trips established a particular value for discipleship that I will not soon forget.

At the end of the class on the book of John, Steve, one of my fellow students-turned-friend, gave me a gift.  You might not think at first that it was a gift because it was dirty and wrinkled and reeked of campfire smoke.  You might think at first that he just didn’t want to wash it and couldn’t bring himself to throw it away.  But I knew it was a gift by his posture and tone.  His arms were outstretched, he had a small zippered pouch, puffy like a pillow and about the size of a good thick novel resting in his open hands.  With a kind soft voice; one I had come to appreciate as the week had progressed, he said, “This oughta fit you better than it fits me.  I’d like you to have it.”  Then he took some time and showed me the secret… how, if you unzip the pouch and unpack the contents, you have a down-filled North Face vest!  He showed me the double-sided zipper and how the pouch becomes a pocket when you’re wearing the vest.

Now I have never been a huge outdoorsy guy, and thus I hadn’t ever really shopped around for outdoor gear.  The backpack and tent I used for the trip were decades old and “inherited” from my Dad and all my freeze-dried food for the trip I bought at Wal-Mart for goodness sake.  But I had lived in the northwest long enough to recognize a vest of reputable outdoorsy quality when I saw it.  Outwardly I did the standard “are you sure?” commentary, but inwardly I was over the top.  I would never buy myself something that nice, but here it was being given to me.

Well, I still have that vest after nearly six years and it still gets a goodly amount of wear.  In fact, just recently I took it with me to a Men’s Conference at Malibu Club, a Young Life camp hidden away up the Jervis inlet in the unbelievably pristine Canadian wilderness.  It was there that the principle of discipleship literally unfolded before my eyes.

It was Sunday morning.  My bags were packed and already headed for the walk-on ferry that would see us back to real life.  I and a few of the guys that came with me were standing around chatting, waiting for breakfast.  I was holding my vest and decided to pack it into pouch form for travel ease.  I opened the zippered pocket and began stuffing the vest through the opening finally zipping it shut to produce the small puffy pouch.  I looked up and Michael, one of the guys standing there, had this incredulous look on his face, like he just learned from me a secret.

“What is that?” Michael asked, laughing slightly, yet evidently curious enough to inquire.

“My vest!” I replied with a ‘duh’ sort of tone since he had just watched me transform it.  Then, as though I had to prove the obvious, I unzipped it and unpacked the pouch/pocket, and put on my vest.  My posture suggested ‘ta-da!’

I noticed he too had a jacket of reputable outdoorsy quality and suspected that somewhere in that jacket was a pocket that was designed to do the same thing as my vest.  I gestured for his jacket.  “I’ll show you,” I said…and hoped.

Sure enough, there was the pocket with the double-sided zipper.  I showed him the zipper and how it worked, and then began stuffing his jacket into the pouch/pocket, finally zipping it shut.  I handed the small puffy pouch back to him; my arms outstretched and hands open, again my posture suggesting ‘ta-da!’  He was plenty impressed.  He knew the secret.  He promptly unzipped the pouch and transformed it back into a jacket, then back to pouch.  His enthusiasm was noted and our small group conversation continued, but only for only a minute.

Nate, another of the guys we traveled with, joined our circle, now 5 people strong.  I looked at him and noticed he as well was wearing a jacket of reputable outdoorsy quality.  I looked back at Michael.  “I bet his coat does it too,” I suggested, bouncing a glace back in Nate’s direction.

“Does what?” Nate asked.  His curiosity betrayed his innocence.

Michael spun around positioning himself between Nate and me, and requested to see Nate’s coat.  Michael’s gesture for the coat didn’t allow Nate to say no.  Nate suspiciously offered up his coat to Michael.  Michael went to work…giving away the secret.  He found the pocket with the double-sided zipper and showed it to Nate.  Michael then began stuffing Nate’s coat into the pouch/pocket, finally zipping it shut.  He handed the small puffy pouch back to Nate; arms outstretched and hands open.  “Ta-da!”  Discipleship!

That’s how it ought to be done…the gospel and all that Jesus taught the disciples; that’s how it ought to be passed on.  Jesus commissioned his disciples before leaving earth and returning to the Father:  “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.” (Matt. 28:18b-20)

We generally don’t miss that.  Many of us have those three verses memorized.  The commission is spelled out simply and clearly.  As you go about living life walking and talking and meeting people, be about what Jesus was about.  Talk up the gospel, live out the gospel, and teach others about Jesus; who he is and what he has done.

We get all that.  But Paul actually helps us see the progression of this.  He says in 2 Timothy 2:2, “…and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”  Did you catch all four generations of the ministry of the gospel there; how the secret of the Good News of Jesus and life lived in Him is passed on?  Steve gave me the vest and showed me the secret of the pouch/pocket.  I then, without even really knowing it and in the course of demonstration, passed on the secret to Michael, who then sprung into action almost immediately by passing on the secret to Nate!  The implication by Paul is that good and actual discipleship proceeds generationally in a sense; the secret passed from one disciple to the next disciple to the next, and so on.

So, how about you?  Passed on any secrets lately?


  1. Andrew, we read your blog over dinner tonight, and my wife and I were encouraged by your faithfulness to sare your life with young men and teach them the way of Christ, just as Dr. Carl taught us. Keep passing on the faith, my friend.


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