Being an Iconic Father

I looked up the icons representing fathers on this Father’s Day… A beer mug, a coffee cup, a fishing rod, sport related items, a watch, a briefcase, a beard and moustache, a shirt and tie…

That’s how the world sees fathers… and some of those are the gifts we are most likely to receive today.🙄

Would you say that these sum up what our wives and kids see in us? Hopefully…not.

Icon comes from a Greek word that means “image” or “representation”. 

The dictionary defines an icon as “A person or thing widely admired especially for having great influence or significance in a particular sphere.”

Fathers, what influence and significance do we have in our spheres (family, work, society)? 

Here are 4 icons to add to the list, representing 4 ways by which we can be “iconic” fathers:

1- Portraying – We are Mirrors. Men (and women) were made into God’s image to carry His image (Gen 1:26-28). We live according to the purpose we have been created for when we display the closest representation possible of our Father. Mirrors are pointless if they don’t reflect. Broken mirrors do not reflect well. We are the best mirrors we can be when we allow the Holy Spirit to work in us to conform us to the perfect Icon of the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ.

2- Pointing – We are Magnifying Glasses. We are here to help those around us see God bigger and better. As we ponder and share about who He is, what He has done (and continues to do), and His will for mankind, we help others see better their desperate need for a Father. We do it with what we say and what we do. Magnifying glasses cannot magnify themselves; they focus and help focus on Someone else. 

3- Parenting – We are Manuals and Mallets. We are to teach and discipline (Eph 6:4). We are to represent God’s loving authority and gracious guidance. Within the home, we are both tender teachers and just judges. Parenting is about molding a heart to see its desperate need for God, to have righteous affections towards God, and to reverently fear Him. Manuals and mallets are there to be barriers and encouragement along the way. 

4- Praying – We are Matin warriors. Matins are morning prayers. The home is where dependence on God is first modeled. In a world where fathers are to be strong and have answers to everything, a Christian father finds that strength on his knees. Those around us are able to see the fruits of our prayers, and they also will notice when we don’t pray. May we also pray for those who don’t have a father in their lives, that they will turn and find comfort 

May you have a blessed day today, and continue to grow to be a true icon of our heavenly Father.

The Service of the Word

Note, “the service”, not the services. There is this trend today of creating a false dichotomy between the public – i.e., preaching – and the private – i.e., biblical counseling – ministry of the Word. Pulpit proclamation and Private discipleship are seen as two tasks or “types” of ministries the pastor must be involved in. These are two spheres of application of the same divine truth which are often pitched one against the other, with advocates of each camp being wary of too much of the other and not enough of their own specialty in the church.

There are two faulty perceptions of the service of the Word that need to be addressed here:  

1- A Faulty Segregation of Servants

The good old separation of clergy and laymen. In our passage in Acts 6, it is interesting to notice that the men appointed to serve tables (Acts 6:2, 5) are also later involved in the service of the Word, as we see Stephen involved in both private arguments about the Word (Acts 6:8-10) and public proclamation of the same Word (Acts 7:1-53). 

These 7 men were not pastors nor elders; they were laymen in the church. Isn’t it sad that names like Prochorus, Parmenas and Nicanor are customarily ignored in Christian circles for baby names? Or that Timon’s name is more attached to a meerkat in a cartoon than to a biblical champion of service? But I digress… 

God’s servants are all those who display undeniable characteristics of a Spirit-filled life, whether they have a title, a position in the church, or not. These servants are marked by:

  • Set-apart living: Acts 6:3 tells us that they were of “good reputation”, and verse 5 describes Stephen as “full of faith”. These men stood out because their lives 
  • Servant-heartedness: When they were chosen, the whole congregation wholeheartedly vouched for them (v.5), because they were already marked and recognized as having what it takes for the task. Their brothers and sisters in the church knew them and knew they can serve in this capacity. Faithfulness in service is always noticed. 
  • Scripture Saturation: They were “full of the Spirit and of wisdom.” (Acts 6:3). Being filled with the Spirit is equated in Scripture with letting the Word of Christ dwell richly (See Eph 3:19-19 and Col 3:16). Stephen’s discourse in Acts 7 attests to that. 

Whether he is a pastor or not, the servant of the Word mut be marked by holiness, humility, and diligence. A servant serves, with or without a badge.   

2- A Faulty Segregation of Services

As already mentioned with these men, they were involved in both. We see Philip preaching in Acts 8:5 and then ministering privately to the Ethiopian eunuch later in that chapter (Acts 8:25-38). We see the apostles involved in both in their ministry. They are both “the service of the Word”. 

God’s Word transforms and shapes lives either through the public proclamation of the Word (preaching, teaching, apologetic forums, etc.) or through the private ministry of the Word (evangelism, soul care, counseling, personal discipleship, etc.). And this is because:

  • There is only one Author to Scripture: God the Holy Spirit, the One who inspired the writers, is also the One who illuminates the minds of those who hear it preach or shared one-on-one. He is the Spirit that confers power to the sermon and wisdom to the friend’s advice. The preacher and the counselor are under the same authority and guidance.   
  • There is only one Approach to Scripture: Study to interpret and apply the timeless truths contained in God’s Word is always required, whether one is boldly proclaiming the Word from the pulpit, or unnoticeably trying to win his brother over. “Thus says the Lord…” is the only message that matters vehiculated by the servant of the Word. 
  • There is only one Aim to the use of Scripture: Paul defines that aim in 1 Thes 1:1-12 when he says “…just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and bearing witness to each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.” Holiness, Christlikeness, is the single goal, always. 

Both “types” are based upon the conviction that God’s Word is inspired, authoritative, sufficient, and relevant. For both tasks, the servant of the Word must endeavor to become “approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” (2 Tim 2:15). 

From http://www.freebibleimages.org

Welcome to our new Project “Watchman” !

Therismos Investment Company (TIC) was created a few years ago to “fuel the Lord’s harvest“. The vision of TIC continues to be to contribute to help pastors and church leaders towards a sustainable income so they can focus on the ministry of the Word and prayer. TIC also desires to support the evangelism and missions efforts carried out by our partner churches and Christian organizations. Finally, TIC has been established to contribute to making Madagascar 3M self-sustaining in a few years, and thus be a model to other local Christian businesses.

We have been trying to reach these goals through launching various projects, yet, after a few setbacks and disappointments, we realized that we needed someone at the helm, really focusing on the implementation and coordination of income generating projects for TIC. And we have been praying for God to send the right person, with a heart for ministry and the adequate background for the task. Well, God answered our prayers.

Meet Mpitily (his name means “Watchman” in Malagasy), our new Therismos Investment Company Project Manager, or should I say watchman 😁. Here is more about him in his own words and how the Lord led him to be part of TIC.

“My parents taught me from my early childhood that good deeds don’t save, only receiving Jesus as Lord and Savior does. So, I believed it, sincerely. The problem was that I believed more in the fact that I did the sinner’s prayer than in Jesus. As a result, when I came to realize how sinful I was, I started to doubt my salvation. Would Jesus still welcome me into Heaven although I continuously trample on His holiness? That question tormented me for long, leaving me afraid of going to hell every single night. 
But then, throughout the years, through Bible studies and teachings especially from a person at the Scripture Union, I came to grasp more and more of who Jesus is and the implication of His death and resurrection for my life. Now I believe in Jesus, not just in a prayer.”

How did you came to be a project manager at TIC?
“To make a long story short, since I was a freshman at high school (2011), I already had that vision or desire to support non-profit initiatives (like a school for really poor children) through business. Consequently, I decided to study business management. When I got my Associate’s degree in 2015, I decided to start a small business to see what’s my worth in the real world. Unfortunately, the results were way below my expectations and I sold the business in 2018 and focused on pursuing my other passion, performing arts and cinema production. In 2020, I applied to a university to study theology overseas, was accepted, yet could not go due to lack of funds. My dreams and plans were shattered. I was confused and disappointed, grumbling to God: “Is that how you love your child?” A new season started. A season during which I had to find a job unrelated to my plans and dreams. A season when God confronted my grumbling heart and proved to me that I was to be grateful in every season – good or bad, as He remains faithful, sufficient, and good. He alone knows what is best for me. And He also provided a wife for me, Manou. We got married on December 28th, 2021.”

As we came back from honeymoon, I enquired the Lord if He wanted me to consider other activities. I remembered hearing and reading about Madagascar 3M and Therismos, a company that has similar visions and desires to mine. So, I contacted Faly, just in case they needed someone and here I am. I am thrilled to be part of TIC.”

Please join me in praying for Mpitily as he embarks in this new season of his life and ministry, and for Therismos Investment Company to be blessed by the Lord to fuel His harvest.

The Ellingsons Move it Move it to Madagascar !!!

From left to Right: Clara, Isabella, David, Ashley, Lydia and Anna

It all started one summer in a Historical Theology class at The Master’s Seminary. I was sitting next to this guy who I thought was the coolest kind of nerd as I heard he was the one developing dank summary memory sheets for Hebrew vocabulary and grammar rules. I had to get to know him. Then I found out he loves dad jokes, 90s rap, and missions.

A match made in heaven. 😁

Then we met his family and found out his wife is even cooler than he is (sorry Dave 😝), and they have those 4 very cute blond girls, 3 of which are almost exactly the same age as our daughters. Another match made in heaven.

We shared our ministry vision with them and unapologetically mentioned that we are looking for teammates. Next thing we know, they come for a exploratory trip 2 days after we returned home in August 2017. We were able to show them some of the realities of life and ministry in Madagascar, and as they left, we actually thought we would never hear from them again. 

We were wrong. The Lord placed on their heart a burden for the Malagasy people and a desire to be involved in training men for a life-long ministry of the Word. 🙏🏽 

The Salt’n’Pepper duo was formed. 😎 Pepper and I 🙄 started to pray together, dream together, and plan together. We have seen our plans delayed by the whole pandemic thing and yet know that now is God’s perfect timing. 

Today, the Ellingsons are flying the 11,063 miles between Los Angeles and Antananarivo to come serve the Lord with us here in Madagascar. What a great sacrifice they are making for the sake of the Gospel. They are leaving family and friends behind, coming to a new culture, 2 new languages (French and Malagasy) and the weirdest teammates they could have picked. 

Please pray for them as they transition to – literally – the other side of the world. As I write this article, they are at the airport, ready to board the plane, one hour away from departure.

Please pray for them individually and as a family to settle well, learn the language quick and to be mighty tools in the hands of the Lord here in Madagascar. 🙏🏽

We love them so much and are thrilled to have them here with us. 

Displaying God’s Wisdom in 2022

“…so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.”

Ephesians 3:10

The mystery has been revealed. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…” (1 Tim 1:15) Astounding truth! God became man; the man Christ Jesus who knew no sin became sin. Jews and Gentiles now can become the righteousness of God through the God-Man who lived a perfect life and died a perfect death. 

Another astounding truth: He has chosen, called, saved and appointed the church to proclaim this message! And when the church does, all cosmic powers marvel at the wisdom of God!

A new year starts today by God’s amazing grace. My prayer is that the wisdom of God be made manifest in the proclamation, testimony, activities and involvement of the church in this fallen world. 

May those who have been redeemed by Christ testify in words and deeds to God’s wise plan of salvation. May we bring the HOPE of the Gospel to those who desperately need it. 

God’s wisdom is magnified when the church:

  • Proclaims the Gospel with Boldness (Eph 3:12a): in an era when any conviction is considered bigotry, the church must more than ever be the pillar and support of the truth (1 Tim 3:15). At individual level, and as a community, the church must be busy with what it has been primarily redeemed for: to be disciples of Christ calling others to become disciples of Christ. 

How to apply this in 2022? Prayerfully think of 3 people you would like to share the Gospel to this year. Regularly engage with them as the Lord allows and continually pray for their salvation. Pray also for “spontaneous” opportunities, people that cross your path to whom you can be light. 

  • Displays Absolute Dependance (Eph 3:12b): May we individually and corporately pray more than we ever had. May we realize even more that in this fight, we need constant communication with our general. May we realize that prayer must be the heartbeat of everything we do. Friends, every great endeavor to glorify God starts on your knees. Your personal life, the life of the church, missions and evangelism, everything! What are the new resolutions you set for yourself this year? Being salt and light in the world? Fight injustices, such as abortion? Transformation of the world you live in? A God-honoring marriage? Being God-honoring in the workplace? It all starts on your knees. 

How to apply this in 2022? Have you considered starting a prayer journal? Have you considered seriously using the prayer app that has been on your phone since long ago? Humble people pray (1 Pet 5:6-7). May we humble ourselves before our God. 

  • Displays Absolute Confidence (Eph 3:13): Afflictions are many in a fallen world. The global pandemic continues to bring its share of hardships to many people around the world. But God is still on His throne (Isa 6:3). His purposes still cannot be thwarted; He still does whatever He wishes according to His promises. He will prevail. He will finish the good work He started in us. He will return to reign and make everything right.  Afflictions and persecution sometime even accelerate the process of sanctification. He works all things for our eternal good and His glory. In that, we can rest. 

How to apply this in 2022? Choose to put on biblical-worldview lenses as you look at the news, think about your future, make daily choices. Let the Bible dictate how you live, not public opinions or governmental mandates. This year may be a good time for you to seek to develop your understanding of the Bible and how it applies to present circumstances? It may be a year for you to learn to contend for the faith, “…being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and fear.” (1 Pet 3:15)

May He be enthroned as King in our lives as we submit every area of our lives to His supreme care. 

When our lives manifest boldness, dependance and confidence, the whole universe marvels at the wisdom of our God. May we be honorable tools in the hands of our Wise God! 

Happy new year!

Therismos Invests in Fishers of Fishermen

Madagascar. One of the biggest islands in the world. 4828km of coastline. Marine fisheries provide revenue and sustenance for all the country. Traditional, artisanal, recreational, and industrial fisheries are all performed.

Traditional fishing, undertaken on foot or canoe, represents nearly 68% of total fish production, largely focusing on exportable products, including crustaceans, holothurians and cephalopods, with men making up 97% of the workforce. It is the livelihood of thousands of families in the city of Mahajanga on the West Coast of Madagascar. 

Petite Plage is replete with hotels, restaurants and other beachfront attractions. It is also one of fishermen village. Hundreds of fishing boats launch from and return to that beach daily, bringing back their catch which is then sold on the local markets and eateries. The beach is also occupied at times by locals holding to traditional beliefs to practice rituals to connect with ancestors and plead for their help to prosper their livelihood. 

Pasteur Andry planted a church a few years ago in Petite Plage and has always had the vision to reach out to this community of fishermen. He has shared the Gospel with many of them and has personally invested in the fishing business to be part of that crowd. He has over the years been able to observe that the best way to relate to them is to be involved in what they do. This facilitates the daily conversations, and the life-on-life imparting of the Gospel. 

Therismos has decided to come alongside Pastor Andry’s efforts and is going to invest in fishing boats and gear to drive his vision forward. In line with our motto, “fueling the Lord’s harvest”, this project will generate income for those involved in it but will also, and mainly, come alongside Petite Plage Biblical Baptist Church’s outreach endeavors. 

By the nature of the activity, fishing requires a few things from those involved in it: 

  • It requires physical and mental dedication
  • It requires courage, patience and resilience
  • It requires skill and knowledge of one’s environment
  • It is still is subject to divine providence

 All of these are also required of those God calls to be His disciple-makers.

The Lord Jesus Christ chose 4 fishermen as part of his group of 12 disciples. He saw in these men character traits shaped by their line of work, which could be applied and developed for evangelism.

The Lord told them in Matthew 4:19 “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (LSB) 

This mandate has been extended to us in Matthew 28:19-20 as we are called to become disciples of Christ making disciples of all nations.

Please pray with us for this new venture. Please pray that the Lord will use and bless this project to bring many to the saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. May many turn away from their idolatrous practices and bow their knees to the only mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5). May this project flourish and bring an income for many fishermen in the region. And may they in turn be fishers of their fellow fishermen.

‘From Is To Ought’ – Living Out A Christian Identity

Who am I? Where do I come from? Where am I going? These fundamental, existential questions have always engaged the human mind. They relate to notions of identity, belonging and purpose. Over the centuries SocratesPlatoKantKierkegaardLeibnizSartreRicœur and many others have tried to answer these questions. Their explorations, alas, were limited by the noetic effects of sin. Thus answers are hard to come by and typically dissatisfying.

Identity, Belonging and Purpose

Identity is defined as “who a person is, or the qualities of a person or group that make them different from others.” It is composed of several quantitative and qualitative aspects on several dimensions. For example, the personal, legal, social and cultural. All of us occasionally – explicitly or tacitly – ponder our identity. But when we do, we are not only tormented by the unending search for our individual particularities. For we also desire a collective belonging. We all want to be part of a group that we can call ours: a family, a community, a nation.

Injustice and Identity Politics

The riots and demonstrations following the murder of George Floyd in the United States, as well as the wind of turmoil that this has stirred internationally, including Africa, reveals something important. The coexistence of communities with perceptible differences is precarious and brittle. Yet the reactions also strengthened feelings of continental esteem. Pride of being African invades everyone’s hearts by association with the descendants of slaves living on American soil. We can empathise with those who declare that they suffer from stigma due to their difference in skin colour.

But the church must demonstrate that the gospel is the only valid response to the problem of racial prejudice, as well economic and social tensions. Our tangible unity and intentionality in seeking to love and understand our neighbours in spite of our ethnical diversity will prove that Jesus Christ abolished all barriers to reconciliation. Just as his work made harmony between God and men possible, so too does it move us towards reconciliation with different members of the human race.

Who(se) Am I?

A defining question is often overlooked in discussing the concept of identity. This crucial question is: “Whose am I?” In Matthew 22:21, Jesus answered those who sought to trap him with a now famous reply. “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.” What we do flows from who we are. And, importantly, who we are flows from whose we are.

Any creature made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26), redeemed in both body and soul by his Son (1 Corinthians 6:19-201 Peter 1:18-19), and in-dwelt by his Spirit (John 14:16-17), belongs to God. Entirely and essentially.

This has several implications for the discernment of our identity, belonging and purpose.

Whose I Am Determines Who I Am

The notion of identity outlines differences as much as it does shared traits. The philosopher and sociologist Michel de Certeau declared that: “A society is defined by what it excludes. It is constituted by differentiating itself. To form a group is to create strangers. There is a bi-polar structure essential to any society: it poses an ‘outside’ so that there would be a ‘between us’.” A clear division is inevitably made between those who are part of the group and those who are not.

In today’s society, we like to categorise people. We do it, both knowingly and unwittingly, all the time. For in our minds, we distinguish people by their nationality, race, geographical location, religion, or social status.

The only classification that matters is whether one is in Christ or not. All other distinctions are unimportant 

Is My Identity In Christ?

But the only classification that really matters is whether one is in Christ or not. All other distinctions are unimportant. Your reliance upon God (or lack thereof) determines how you will live your life now. And also where you will spend eternity.

In Christ, all those who repent of their sins and believe in him are given a new identity. This is attached to a collective entity, the Church (1 Corinthians 12:12-31). They become children of God (John 1:12-131 John 3:1). Ephesians 2:19says, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household.”

God has made us one nation no matter where we come from.

A Citizen Of Heaven, Living On Earth

Ephesians 1:4-5 says this. “In love he predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to himself, according to the kind intention of His will.” We are citizens of heaven and we are adopted into the family of God. As followers of Christ, we have been set apart and called to live a life separate from the world. 1 Peter 2:9 defines the people of God as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession.” What an amazing privilege and what an extraordinary gift of grace that God allows us to identify with him through his Son.

We can all be proud of our Malagasy, Congolese, or Javanese nationality. But there is an identity that we should delight in all the more. That of being a citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20). When Paul writes to the church of Philippi, he defines them as “the saints in Jesus Christ who are in Philippi” (Philippians 1:1). Their celestial identity precedes their earthly identity. It is the same for us. We are Christians first and foremost.

Beyond Ethnocentrism

And yet these two affiliations can co-exist. Both should be affirmed. Although one takes precedence. We are Christians temporarily placed by God in Madagascar, DRC, or Zambia. We can – and must – sometimes feel like strangers in our country (1 Peter 2:11). Our life must be decidedly different from that of our fellow countrymen. This can lead to distancing and even persecution (2 Timothy 3:12). For we live like strangers, concerned with the interests of a better homeland than our present country or city (Hebrews 11:16; 13:14). Ethnocentrism must give way to a unity centred on our new eternal identity.

My Identity Will Determine What I Do

Kant articulates his self-cognitive reflections around 3 questions:

  1. What can I know?
  2. What should I do?
  3. And, what can I hope for?

He would have avoided himself many headaches by conforming his answers to the Bible. For it contains clear answers to these questions. Therefore we can use them to structure more thinking about identity, below.

1. What Can I Know?

First, salvation makes us worshipers of God, individually and collectively. The ultimate goal of our redemption is to glorify God. We become living instruments of celebration that are to represent God. The additional benefits – such as our forgiveness, adoption and eternal future in his presence – should not make us forget that God works primarily for His glory.

Each Christian contributes to building a “spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:5), resplendent and pleasant in the eyes of the Lord. And heaven will be filled of worshipers. In Revelation 5:9-10, God’s plan is fulfilled. He has assembled to himself a kingdom of priests. The contemporary Church is a foretaste of that which is to come. Therefore, it must display love and moral purity. For it represents the character of God and validates the gospel’s transforming power.

2. What Should I Do?

Second, salvation makes us witnesses for God, both individually and collectively. We were set apart to herald “the excellencies of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (1 Peter 2:9). Indeed, we are meant make the presence of Christ in us tangible by our good conduct (1 Peter 2:12). Whether at our place of work, our school, or at the supermarket, our lives intersect the lives of non-believers. We are called to be image-bearers and message-bearers wherever God places us.

3. What Can I Hope For?

Our concerns reveal what really matters to us. It is now 213 years after the Slave Trade Act, 65 years after the discriminatory laws in the US, and less than 30 years after the end of the Apartheid regime in South Africa. Several analysts have weighed the progresses made towards racial equality. Perhaps we should also use this time to evaluate the evolution of the Christian faith on African soil? Given that we’ve had the Bible in our own languages since the mid-1800s.

Some of us may be worried about our political and economic future. Others actively work to contribute to their country’s economic development or to the establishment of social justice. And still others campaign for, or against, governmental action. All of these are laudable. Unless they take precedence over what God has called us to do. Our divergent identity from the world must lead us to act differently. Our priorities are dissimilar and peculiar, so are our goals.

Instead of operating to make our African countries a paradise, let us evangelise to take many of our fellow citizens to God’s heavenly Paradise. What questions must we raise regarding the concerns and priorities of the body of Christ in Africa? A tragic end is promised to those whose names are not part of God’s “Book of Life” (Revelation 20:15). This is what we should chiefly worry about for our loved ones, our friends, and our family.

Our God Promises A Brighter Future

I have a prayer. That the fireworks on the days we celebrate our independence from colonisers throughout the continent will remind us that there is a great celebration in heaven every time a lost soul takes refuge in the Lord (Luke 15:7). May this give us the zeal to proclaim to all we can that the real celebration is yet to come! When all the citizens of the kingdom of God will be in the presence of their Creator. “He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son.” (Revelation 21:7)

This Is Who We Are

Who are you? Have you repented from your sins and entrusted your life to Christ? Then you are a son or daughter of God. Whose are you? His. God’s. Where do you come from? You were created by God to glorify him. Where are you going? To the place where God dwells among men (Revelation 21: 3).

As such, we must be disciple-making disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). We are called to proclaim the sovereignty of Christ, exhorting others to worship and fear God. Everyone has their role to play in the great commission. Be it to send, train, go, support, or pray for those who are at the forefront. But there can be no spectators. We are all in the same boat. As the church, missions must be our passion and as individuals, we must seek that which glorifies God. That is who we are!

[This article was published on The Gospel Coalition Africa and is available here: https://africa.thegospelcoalition.org/article/from-is-to-ought-living-out-a-christian-identity/]

Grace-Induced Confinement Priorities

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With now over 190 countries affected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, one thing is certain: we all have had to make adjustments to the way we do life and things may never be the same again, at least for the present generation. It can seem odd to ponder on the aftermath of such a global catastrophe while still in the thick of it, but we all can only imagine how immense it will be. Both globally and at an individual level. Think of the impact on the world’s economy, tourism, healthcare, transport, food regulations, governmental interrelations, etc. Also consider the impact on you and me, some immediate with the loss of friends or family members, or the financial burden it lays on those whose income is dependent on global trades or on the influx of tourists, but other consequences four our future. Social interaction patterns will change and prejudice against certain ethnicities will potentially develop in our hearts. But these times of uncertainty are also the perfect opportunity to assess current habits and develop new ones. With many of our hobbies and activities affected, we have more time than ever for introspection. With many of us in confinement or a similar restriction on our movements, there are many ways we can redeem the pandemic-induced time at home with family, building or strengthening godly habits and outward focus.

Cutting Off

Obviously, it is not like we are now temptation-less; so much junk is still available at our fingertips through a phone or computer keyboard. But the stay-at-home policy has put a big dent into our entertainment and social life. Ask yourself: “what am I currently truly missing while being stuck at home?” The answer will indicate the things we have assigned worth to. Some may be legitimate and godly but there could be other things we got accustomed to that lead to ungodliness.
Now is the time for us to assess and remove the things that needlessly occupied our minds and our schedules. Now is the time to eradicate the superfluous and the indulgently fleshly. Now is the time to set up healthier uses of the hours the Lord gives us each day. To “deny” here indicates a strong pledge to refuse to be associated with anything ungodly or carnal. The grace of God didn’t only grant us freedom from the slavery of sin, it enables us to grow in an aversion for sin, thus refusing to be exposed to it or influenced by it.

Cultivation

As we put off the deeds of the flesh, we need to replace them with enterprises that promote sensible living. The Christian walk is a divinely enabled growth in Christlikeness. One of the fruits of the inner transformation by the Holy Spirit is self-control. Our desires no longer control us, we control our desires and bend them to align with God’s will. To “live sensibly” is to increasingly and habitually live a wise, prudent and reasonable life, with our mindset on the things above (Col 3:1-2). This cannot be achieved without establishing godly disciplines, latching onto the ordinary means of grace – Bible reading and prayer. With now more time on our hands as we are not commuting to work, maybe we can:

  • Pick up where we left that Bible reading plan started as part of our new year resolutions
  • Spend more time on meditating on the Word of God, instead of our usual rushed-through reading
  • Spend more time in prayer for those affected by Covid-19, for the medical staff worldwide, for churches and evangelists, for our families and friends, for the individual testimony of believers amidst the crisis, for a particular people group, for those who do not know the Lord, for our own walk with Him, and so much more!
  • Commit to reading a book with our spouse or our kids.
  • Take a free online class or study that doctrinal issue we always wanted to but never got to dig into.
  • Do family devotions every morning and evening.
  • Listen to edifying sermons.

Surely there is more we can do with our time and brain space than to read memes or scroll our Facebook feed all day.

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Charity

God created men with a disposition towards relationships. His gracious salvific grace further heightened that calling by placing us in the fellowship of believers and making us citizens of heaven (Eph. 2:19-22). However, our sinful selfish nature still often blinds us to the point that we are oblivious to the needs of others. We so easily moan and complain about the current situation and fail to think and pray about how we can be used by God in the lives of others. Granted, our direct contacts with others are limited, but we still can call, we still can text to inquire about any spiritual or physical needs, we still can pray, and we still can transfer money to those who are less privileged. Those who want to live “righteously” are those who want to represent their righteous God in the lives of their neighbors. It means not amassing all the goods available in the supermarket just for oneself, it means not unnecessarily putting others at risk by not abiding by the dispositions imposed by the authorities. And it means not forsaking the assembling with others (Heb 10:24-25), even though virtually through Livestream or teleconference. “Godly” lives are lives focused on both the vertical and horizontal dimensions of their lives. True charity is not financial, it’s a disposition of heart that wants to put God on display and seeks the spiritual good of others.

Contemplation

There is an attentiveness, a vigilance, and a diligence that are evident in the life of someone who expectantly waits for the return of his Master. We will watch and pray (Mat 26:41) if we truly look forward to the return of our Lord. Our hope is not in the doctors finding a cure for Covid-19, neither is it in our lives going back to the old “normal” – though these are honorable thoughts – it is ultimately in the return of Jesus Christ to right every wrong, and to abolish sin and its effects once and for all. We fear when we forget how the story ends. We panic when we fail to remember that God is still on the throne and He does as He pleases (Psalm 115:3). We fret when we live as if there were not an afterlife of joy in His presence that awaits us. Look up and fix your gaze on the author and perfecter of your faith. How would others put their trust in God if they see us dread the existing state of affairs as much as they do?

Commitment

As believers, Christ died for us so we can live for Him. We were chosen before the foundation of the world to become a purified vessel to be used by God for His glory. By grace, we were saved to do good deeds. Our deeds cannot save us, but they are the evidence of the salvation purchased for us. Christians are marked by single-mindedness and determination to faithfully be worshippers and witnesses of the One who sought and saved them (Luke 19:10). May we be marked by a commitment to kill sin in our lives, may we be known for our passion for Christ and for the lost. May we be notorious for being fervent evangelists and relentless prayer warriors. And may those who observe our good deeds “glorify God in the day of visitation.” (1 Pet 2:12)

Soli Deo Gloria!

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Grace Community Church STM Trip Recap

By Tara Hubbard

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From May 23-June 6, I was with a team of 8 dear believers from Grace Community Church. We went to Madagascar to support, build up and mutually encourage Faly and Lily Ravoahangy, their family and their church. While visiting, we were able to attend two different churches in Madagascar. One in Antananarivo, where Faly is an elder. One in Andasibe-Vavatenina, a small village on the north eastern side of Madagascar.

We went to church at FBB Ankadivato, in Antananarivo the first Sunday after we arrived. FBB Ankadivato is marked by hospitality and a true thirst to pursue Christlikeness. During night church, the 9 of us sat in front of the young adult’s group on a panel discussion about dating, singleness, and guy/girl friendships. The questions that were asked were so humble and heartfelt; they all desired to know how to love one another in a way that brings God the most glory. It was a little awkward at first because I’ve never sat on a panel, and I didn’t actually feel qualified enough to speak on the topic, but it ended up turning out well. By God’s grace, we were able to give some helpful answers and point the youth to God’s Word.

The next day our team grew from 9 to 16 as we added Faly, his son Samuel, his daughter Immanuel, and 3 church members from FBB Ankadivato (Miora, Astieldo & Faniry) who gave up their week to translate for us 24/7. That day we did some traveling and hanging out with lemurs at this lemur island thing. Most of them were friendly.. but one decided to use Brian’s hood as a toilet, while Hillary and I stood around and laughed. After we left Lemur Land (as I like to call it), we were able to celebrate Rachael’s 20th birthday and eat some super tasty food. Then we made our way to the village to meet some of the sweetest, loveliest people I have ever met.

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I had expressed to some of my friends before the trip that I was a bit discouraged with my own lack of preparation, and I just want to thank you for praying for me whenever you thought of that. One of the many things that the Lord taught me throughout the week was to set aside my own feelings of inadequacy and to be obedient. When you trust God and submit, the joy of the Lord keeps pouring onto you and out of you.

The joy of the Lord was a consistent theme for me throughout the entire week. I didn’t go more than a day without crying tears of joy to the Lord for His kindness in letting me be a part of such a ministry, and for His faithfulness in these people’s lives.

We had a long drive to get to the village after the lemur day and it had been raining heavily so the roads were super muddy and washed out at parts. God supplied us with this Malagasy Vin Diesel guy named Eric who drove us through 98% of the terrain with little to no concern. We were supposed to meet up with a few people who would help us carry a generator & projector for movie nights in the village, but we had to stop about 2kms or so away from the meeting point because the road became too muddy to drive up. Faly ran to go to the meeting point and tell the guys to meet us down the road.

A few minutes later, as we were trying to figure out what to do, we see Faly returning with a village of people behind him. And for once, that expression isn’t an exaggeration. Men, women, and children came down and began grabbing everything they could from us, to relieve us in carrying some of the burden. Malagasy kids wanted to carry our sleeping pads and mosquito nets. Two men grabbed thick bamboo rods, tied our generator to the rods with rope, and began to ascend the trail. Some Malagasy women took peoples’ backpacks, balancing them on their heads throughout the hike.

This alone was amazing to witness and praise God for, but as we all began to hike together the people of the village began to sing Malagasy hymns at the top of their lungs. We hiked for three and a half hours, in the dark, in the mud, (they were barefoot!) and they never once stopped singing, praising God for His kindness in sending people to give them the training to handle God’s Word.

It was crazy and humbling to realize that they were praising God for the arrival of Bible teachers. I don’t often consider the immense privilege it is to have study bibles and resources at my fingertips, and I often waste these resources with my own laziness. But to whom much is given, much is required (Luke 12:48); I have been blessed with these resources by God, and it is expected that I use them to glorify Him and benefit others.

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The people from Andasibe were marked by joy and worship, and they worshipped out of true reverence and love for God. Throughout the week, they would use any of their downtime to sing praises to God in Malagasy. Even in children’s class, the kids would wait patiently & without prompting, start singing Malagasy hymns.

When we arrived at the village, it was around 10pm and everyone was exhausted. But rather than dropping off our stuff and heading to their homes for the night, these precious people gathered outside of the house we were staying and sung a joyful song to God. The lyrics (I’m told) were thanking God for safely delivering us on our long journey and delighting in the days to come. All our hearts were so full as fellow believers gathered around us and sung at the top of their lungs in their own language.

We spent 4 days in total in the village. Every day, Jonny and I and one of the translators (either Miora or Astieldo) would teach the children lessons based on the Fundamentals of the Faith lessons that Grace Community Church offers. Jonny taught the main lesson and I developed questions to ask the kids, or points I wanted to expand on with them after the lesson was over.

We taught bible classes two times a day, and between lessons, we would have a couple hours of downtime. We used that time to play soccer one day… Honestly, I played for like 10 minutes, but I thought I’d throw the soccer game in here because it was still fun and something that happened… and to swim and bathe in this really fun river. After the final lesson of the day, we would rely on Astieldo to come up with a game to play with the villagers, so that we could build relationships during the short time we had with them.

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At night, we set up a big screen, generator and projector, in the middle of the road so the villagers could watch a movie. For three nights, we played Christian movies with Malagasy voiceovers, and after the movie was over someone from our team would preach the gospel to the audience. Faniry, Astieldo, and Faly helped to translate the gospel message and one man came up after, wanting to know more about how to become a believer. He had mentioned that he had lived a life that he wasn’t proud of, and he felt trapped in his circumstances. Faly talked with him more and explained to him that he will always feel trapped in life’s circumstances if he doesn’t get right with God and confess and repent of his sins. He seemed to listen to what was being said and will hopefully attend church in the village!

Conceptually, I understand translators play vital roles, but since English is one of the most common languages, I’ve never depended on someone else to articulate what I’m trying to say. Thus, I’ve always stayed in a comfortable bubble of other people conveniently speaking English. Miora, Astieldo, and Faniry (and Faly!) were so crucial to our ministry, and we all were dependent upon them to translate what we wanted to teach. They also translated whenever we wanted to have a conversation with anyone. They never complained and they even went out of their ways to ask if we wanted to communicate with anyone specifically. Not only did I gain valuable insight on the importance of knowing other languages besides my own, and how to serve selflessly, I also gained 3 new friends which was one of the sweetest blessings on the trip!

It was amazing to watch the way our entire team was knit together in love for one another and above all, for Christ. We were united in one mind, one heart, one goal: to encourage the church and equip the saints. God brought us all together as a group and we were able to serve in the unique ways that He made us. Every person was so vital, every member of our group was being used. It was a real reminder that there are no second-string players in God’s kingdom because He uses the weak to shame the wise. We were all vital and an important piece because we were all committed to loving Jesus above everything else.

Each person died to themselves and overlooked preferences. There was repentance and forgiveness towards one another. There was generosity and there was selflessness. The sacrificial love that was displayed was a love that could only come from Christ. And it was never a burden to die to ourselves. When you fix your eyes on Jesus, the command to lay down your life for others is not burdensome. Jesus’ yoke is a light yoke to bear and we receive the fullness of grace when we put our hands to the plow & keep our eyes on the King. Pursue the Lord. Serve others. These commandments are SUCH a blessing from the Word of the Lord.

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For the 4 nights we stayed, we were fed amazing meals and lived in the main room of one of the biggest houses in the village. It was a huge sacrifice for the village to host us, and the food they gave us was really only for special occasions. The believers in Andasibe were more generous with what they had (which was close to nothing) than some believers I know in America, and most of them lived in shacks made of wood and bamboo. I noticed that their lack of possessions freed them up from the type of idolatry that I’ve experienced in the States and made them less distracted in general. Obviously, there are temptations to sin everywhere, because our human heart is what generates these idols, but it did seem sweeter to live this simpler life. It’s good to remember that contentment doesn’t come from material possessions, but that it’s an inward quieting of the heart that only God can supply.

Along that same train of thought, many of the believers in Andasibe didn’t own a personal bible. They memorized scripture and met three times a week to read and pray (and sing of course!) together. This was a great conviction to me because I don’t treat God’s Word as if my life depends on it, and I’m someone who owns 3 bibles. Along with that, I am very poor at sticking to the memorization of scripture and knowing the references. This should be something I take seriously for the purpose of encouraging believers and ministering to others, and yet my life is marked by laziness in this area instead of faithfulness.

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Another thing that really stuck out to me about the people in Andasibe was that they would ask us to pray for them whenever we had time to talk to them. It was clear that they loved and cherished prayer above riches or fine gold. They asked for us to pray for loneliness, contentment, growth & loving others. Their prayers were to love God better, and the only time they ever asked us to pray for a material possession was when they expressed the desire for more bibles in their village. Their prayers were godly prayers that were according to God’s will.

After only four days of serving and worshipping alongside the people in Andasibe, my heart was full. It was hard to leave this little village because it seemed like a glimpse into what heaven will be like. And it’s sad to think that I may never see any of those people again on earth, but I know that the reunion in heaven will be so sweet as we all will stand before the King and sing praises to Him.

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