In my library I have a copy of Good News For Modern Man, The New Testament: Today’s English Version Bible, which an American missionary in Greece gave to my father. On the inside flap he wrote:
To help you remember the day when you asked Jesus Christ to enter your heart… and to help you grow in your new personal relationship with Him.”
–With love and prayer, R… P….
It was signed on Friday January 20, 1978. My dad, Issam, made a confession of faith on the train from Athens to Thessaloniki after taking my nana (his mother) to the airport as she flew back to Iraq, the home of my heritage. That was the last time my father saw my grandmother. We immigrated to America in December of that year. There is much I can say about Iraq, the Middle East and Arab Christians. For now, however, I want to pay tribute to the man who evangelized my father. Because if he had not left America to go to Greece where he crossed paths with my father, I don’t know where or who I would be right now. My salvation, my Christian marriage and the salvation of my children would not exist if that man had not been a faithful follower of Christ who was willing to go to the nations and talk to all the people the Lord sent his way about the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. (To clarify: Being Reformed I know that I would have come to Christ even if this man had not been faithful. The Lord accomplishes all his holy will, nothing thwarts him. However, what I am trying to emphasize is the significant consequences of one man’s obedience.)
I weep every time I open my dad’s old Bible, which I do a few times a year to remind myself of the grace of God. It was later in 1978, sitting in a train station in Thessaloniki, waiting for my mother’s train to arrive, that my father spoke the gospel to me. I believed and confessed that Jesus Christ died for my sins on the cross. I was eight years old.
Life was difficult when we arrived in America. We were a poor Middle Eastern immigrant family, but my father worked hard and took us to Chuck Swindoll’s church, Evangelical Free Church of Fullerton (the church his missionary friend had recommended). My father sat under that man and grew. I went to Sunday school and girls club and grew. Then we hit some hard times. My mother couldn’t understand English very well and eventually my father stopped attending and stopped taking us, out of concern for her. We returned to the Arabic Catholic and Orthodox churches and life moved forward.
A lot of years have passed by since then. I am now a forty-two year old wife and mother of five children. I lived through backsliding, divorce, rebellion, passivity, and legalism. BUT MY GOD IS FAITHFUL. My Lord saves to the uttermost. I find that he is restoring the years that the locusts ate.
I finished David Platt’s Radical today (last week). It confirmed to me the need to send out willing disciple makers, to go and proclaim the gospel to all the Issams and all the Lumas out there. It has also served to remind me of the absolute necessity for long-term discipleship. Our family did not have that once we came to America, and I believe we suffered deeply because of it.
So how do we become obedient disciple makers? The point here is not that all of us necessarily need to go overseas, although indeed, the Lord may call some of us to do just that. To be an obedient disciple maker, as Paul saw it, is to be willing to be poured out for others. No matter who those “others” are or where they live. Some disciple makers may be called to the suburbs, which in actuality is a very difficult place to try to minister in. Some are called to the inner city. Some are called to another state or even to another country. One thing is for sure–we are all called to be obedient disciple makers:
“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.”
I spent some time breaking apart these verses this week, that’s when the multiplying affect of disciple-making hit me. Obedient disciple-makers go into nations and start making disciples, this happens by the proclamation of the gospel; disciples are made and they are to be baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; at the same time we are to teach them to observe ALL that Jesus has commanded us. Okay, so this raises the question: What has Jesus commanded us? As a disciple-maker, I need to know what Jesus has commanded to know what I have to turn around and teach these new disciples. And then it hits! One of the things Jesus commanded us to do is to go to the nations and make disciples, baptize them and teach them. See the multiplying effect here? It is God in his sovereignty and grace that has power over all the multiplication of disciple-making, of course. We must never forget that. But in the end we see that we are all called and we are all to obey. Not in the same way. Let’s not forget that our God is not the God of a monolithic people. He is the Lord of creativity and complexity.
I went back to church at the age of nineteen, because of a friend who was being an obedient disciple maker by urging me to return to the Lord. This friend helped me pick out a Bible. I spent a lot of years with that Bible, marking it up. It bears the marks of that time in my life. Every ten to twelve years I get a new Bible. I am on my third right now. Each of these Bibles are being saved for my five children, my little disciples. My hope is that one day, when I go to be with the Lord, each of my closest disciples (my children) will have a Bible that I used up during a period of my life. My prayer is that the Lord will grow my children through those used Bibles. I pray they will see the hand of God at work during my earthly life and that will set them on fire for the Lord Jesus. So that they too, will go and obey in whatever way the Lord chooses out for them. But from now until then, I want to spend the rest of my life learning how to be an obedient disciple maker. I want to learn how to live and how to die, for Jesus Christ.