In 312 A.D. something really consequential happened to the Church. It was the year the emperor Constantine embraced Christianity. Whether he actually converted or not is a debate for the ages, but he did manage to bring Christianity from the shadows to the spotlight. His vision to conquer under the sign of the Cross became associated with the Church for a very long time.

The immediate effect of Constantine’s conversion, in addition to making every Pope and prelate rich, was that a religion that had been marked for extinction was suddenly elevated to the status of state religion, whether officially or not. The Church moved from the margins to the center and gradually Jesus and His teachings moved from the center to the margins.

From that day forward Christians have looked to a “savior” from the seats of power. The Church has been associated with power and wealth; the cross, which was an instrument of humiliation before, now became a banner under which Christian armies fought to conquer other people.

Jesus’ teachings on the ethics of the Kingdom, which is embodied in the sermon on the mount, were sanitized and domesticated to fit the narrative of a dynastic Messiah. They were no longer for the regular follower, only for a selected few. Or maybe they were only for the age to come; or perhaps given as an ideal to make the very point that we can’t really get there.

It is time for us to reclaim Jesus and His teachings to their place of preeminence in our lives. Let’s recognize that while there is still an aspect of the Kingdom that has yet to be realized, Jesus meant for His followers to live the ethics of the sermon on the mount in the here and now.

Constantine, and all the great minds of Church theology that legitimized his view of Christianity, managed to transform Jesus into this iconic figure that must be feared and revered, but from a safe distance, of course. He became much like the Catholic Church’s many saints at the time.

As a result of that, it was very possible to worship Jesus but not necessarily follow Him. They bowed in humble adoration but when it came to the stuff about praying for those who persecute you, they bowed out. They lingered by the train of His kingly robes but when the King stripped down His royal garb and touched lepers, they were no longer willing to hang around.

And if we are not careful, we too can let the same thing happen to us today — we can leave Jesus on the altar instead of carrying Him into the road with us; we can make Him possible but not portable. And God forbid we should go looking for somebody else, maybe another Constantine, to help us feel safe as we practice our faith. That would only detract us from the mandate to be salt and light to people who desperately need to know that Jesus has the answers to all their perplexing questions.

Time to un-radicalize the sermon on the mount and let Jesus be king again, not in a palace but in our hearts, not in an altar but in the daily decisions we make about living for Him and engaging Christ’s other friends.

 

Pastor Ivanildo da Costa Trindade

Lead Pastor, Grace Church, Lititz, PA

“Faith is the substance of what we hope for, the conviction of what we do not see.” This is how I think Hebrews 11:1 should be translated. A lot of modern translations prefer to render the Greek word ὑπόστασις (hypostasis) as “assurance,” but I think that is already the force of the second part of the verse, namely, that through faith we are “convinced” that some things we do not see will come to pass.

But the first part of the verse tells a different story. The author of Hebrews had already used “hypostasis” in 1:3 in that sense, when he said that the Son is the “substance” (NIV “exact representation”) of the Father. In other words, what the Father is, in essence, is what the Son is. “Like Father, like Son.”

So the text would then be understood as faith giving substance to our hopes. Faith provides a platform for hope. Through faith, we can “see” things that only exist as promises from God. Faith allows the “not yet” to move into the column of the “here and now.” The task in the “to do list” gets a “done” check.

And this is the main point of the “parade of heroes” in Hebrews 11. They all lived in faith but faith for them was not a leap in the dark. It moved them to act as if what had been promised to them was already realized. Faith gave feet to their confidence and wings to their God given dreams.

And what was the promise? It was none other than the coming of the Redeemer, the Messiah-Savior who would reconcile us to our Maker once and for all. But none of them saw the star in the east announcing the birth of Christ outside of Bethlehem. None of them held the baby Jesus in their arms like old Simeon did. But that didn’t stop them from living as if the Messiah was already there. “They were all commended for their faith,” he says, “yet none of them received what had been promised” (11:39).

As proof of this way of life, the author gives a whole list of hardships God’s people had to endure because they treated the “not yet” as “here and now” (11:35b-40). In fact, like so many of our brothers and sisters today, especially in atheist and religiously totalitarian regimes, many had the option of being released, if they were willing to reject this faith of substance (11:36.) But no, they preferred to die, because they knew and believed beyond any doubt the day of their liberation was a sure date on the calendar. No wonder the author says that “the world was not worthy of them” (11:38a).

Which brings me to the nature of God’s promises. They are not like a blank check, one that you may fill with whatever amount that suits your fancy. God is still in charge of writing and signing the check. They are not like a “rain check.” God never runs out of supply. His stock is always overflowing and He gives us good and perfect gifts. God’s promises are more like a certified check, except He is at once the bank and the signatory. He determines the amount, verifies that the supply is there, and transfers it to a secure account so it will be there when the check is cashed in. And His Son offered Himself as a guarantor. Air tight case.

And that’s the reason those the saints of old could live with the reality of Christ in the here and now even though it was “not yet.” Sadly, however, many Christians today prefer to inhabit a reverse universe: they live with the here and now reality of the resurrected Messiah but act as if it were “not yet” here. May it not be said of us that “the world was just fine with the way they lived.”

Pastor Ivanildo da Costa Trindade

Lead Pastor, Grace Church, Lititz, PA

Language is a map to a culture. It opens the door for us to understand people. It gives us clues about what we value, shun, fear, and love.

“Wasting” is a fairly common word in the English language. We say, for example, “I wasted my time,” as in waiting for an audience with a judge and not having the sentence go the way we wanted. We say, “I wasted a trip,” if we travel a certain distance to meet someone, only to find that the person was not there. And we say, “I wasted my efforts,” if we study for a test and don’t pass.

But do we ever say, “I wasted my love”? I’m sure someone will but it is not a logical phrase. And the reason is that by its own definition love is not given as a way to get something. Love is freely given. It embodies the definition of “no strings attached.” As such, therefore, it can never be wasted. It should rather be a renewable resource in the Church.

One author defines love as “… a sacrificial giving of oneself for the welfare of someone else — even if that person is unresponsive or undeserving.” (Larry E. McCall). This is exactly what Jesus did for us. The expression “He gave Himself up for us” is repeated multiple times in the New Testament. He didn’t have to but He did it anyway. That is in essence what true love is — a gift given without being procured.

Jesus’ love was marked by voluntary actions:

For the Church — He gave Himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25-27).

For the disciples — He loved them to the end (John 13:1).

For His Father —  He abided in His love (John 15:9-17).

For us — He poured out His Spirit in us (Romans 5:5).

For the ungodly — He sends the sun and the rain to them (Matthew 5:43-45).

Biblical love, therefore, is never a means to an end. It is not an activity that is marked by quid pro quo (you scratch my back, I scratch yours). It is rather a gift that is given even if the recipient is unresponsive or insensitive. For this reason, it can never be wasted because it seeks no interest outside of itself. Plus, when I truly love, I am feeding my own soul, and what’s to waste in that?

For a Christ follower, then, it should be easy to love. His love has invaded us, it broke the walls of separation, it filled us with an inexhaustible source of love that does not depend on how others react to me. As a follower, “I love because I am.” And “I am because I’m loved.”

Jesus said that the world would know that we are His disciples if we have love one for another. I say to you that without an exuberant show of Christ’s love among His people, there can be no vibrant witness to Christ’s other friends (those who are still outside).

Let’s elevate Christ-like love in His Church!

Pastor Ivanildo da Costa Trindade

Lead Pastor, Grace Church, Lititz, PA

JO cropWords. Who can deny their power? James said that the tongue has the power of life and death. The author of Proverbs says that kind words are like honey — sweet to the soul and healthy for the body.

There is no doubt that scores of people have become enslaved by words that were said to them or even words they keep repeating to themselves. Among my social media contacts, I have those who are perpetually wallowing in negativity. If they are planning a day in the park with the kids and it starts raining, they don’t think of ways to make the best of it, they go to FB and whine about it.

Sure, words have power, but not magical powers. And this is my biggest objection to the teachings of people like Joel Osteen. He’s hung up on this whole idea that speaking words out loud has the power to prophesy our future. I call that “word theology.”

I find a different story in Scriptures. The concept of speaking words to create reality is foreign to Scriptures. Of course, God did it, when He spoke the world into existence. Jesus did it, when He commanded Spirits to leave and calmed storms, but where in the Bible are we taught to repeat certain things in order to bring them about in our lives?

Jesus said “ask, seek, knock,” and it will be given to you. He didn’t say, “Repeat these words every day until they become reality in your life.” Joel says that what comes after the “I am” is the trigger point. So, if you say, “I am prosperous,” even if you are dirt poor, eventually wealth will come calling your name. My reading of Scriptures tells me that it’s not about what comes after the “I am,” it’s about the “I AM.” Jesus is the ultimate source of blessings, and a vibrant relationship with Him is far more important than anything else in the world.

There is no magic in words. After you get saved, you still have work to do. Having a positive attitude will help for sure, but having a link to the Person of prosperity instead of a prosperity person will reap the most benefit in the long run.

Finally, let me just say that after reading several of Joel’s books, I am convinced that his greatest flaw is his incomplete use of Scriptures. He will take an isolated word, sometimes half of a sentence, coin a catchy phrase that summarizes a popular concept, and present it as Biblical truth.

I am not saying he does it on purpose, I am not suggesting deception. I actually believe Joel is genuinely engaged in the people-helping business. His heart is motivated to do the right thing, but he is falling way short of offering sustainable help. I will give plenty of examples this Sunday of how he misuses specific biblical texts. His books are littered with that.

My opinion is that in his enthusiasm for helping broken people, Joel has become overzealous to develop a theology of wealth and prosperity but he has failed miserably to develop a theology of suffering. As one who seeks to communicate God’s truth week after week, we must do better than that.

And that’s my word for today. God bless Joel.

Pastor Ivanildo da Costa Trindade

Lead Pastor, Grace Church, Lititz, PA

 

local-input-ashley-madison-is-an-online-dating-service-andThe good, the bad, the ugly. Every society has its share of each. Having them is only the start of our troubles. Being able to identify which is which, now that’s trouble with capital “T.”

We have human traffickers, abortion profiteers, child rapists, serial killers. Can we agree to put all of these under the category of “the ugly”? We also have drug traffickers, corrupt judges, wife beaters, performance enhancement drug users, racists, slumlords, welfare frauds, etc. Are these among “the bad”?

But now we enter the arena which in the minds of many represent the proverbial “gray area.” Finding loopholes in the tax system to pay as little as possible? “Padding” your résumé? Ripping music from the Internet? The list is endless and the cries for not imposing your morality on someone else are loud.

One example of this zone where morality seems to be prohibited is the proliferation of sites that make it easy and “secure” for people to engage in extra-marital affairs. Ashley Madison is the most successful iteration of this business model. Their motto says it all, “Life is short. Have an affair.”

In this post, I intend to show, without appealing to Scriptures, that this business model is wrong. Please, don’t get me wrong. In choosing this approach, I am not saying that the Bible has nothing relevant to say on the topic. We know that the biblical teaching on marital fidelity is unmistakable. Hebrews 13:4, among other texts, leaves no room for speculation: “Give honor to marriage, and remain faithful to one another in marriage. God will surely judge people who are immoral and those who commit adultery.”

But I am trying to do something different here, partially because I believe that the so-called “infidelity business” has left enough skeletons in the closet of their business that I don’t even need to use the Bible to prove how wrong it is. They have left enough tracks on their trail to show us how dirty their enterprise is.

First, there is the woman with the index finger in front of her lips asking everyone to keep it quiet. She is the face of the business, the first thing everyone will see if they choose to visit that website, which I have never done, by the way. Now, why the secrecy? If it’s really good  to revitalize your marriage, like many say, why keep it a secret?

Of course we know the reason for the secrecy. It’s more “sexy.” The allure of doing things no one will ever find out makes the try nearly irresistible. The thief never warns the owner of the day he’s coming to sack the house. It’s the surprise that makes the heist a success. You remove the secrecy and the appeal is gone and that’s why one should be wary of a business model that depends on hiding your actions to achieve the desired result.

Here is another clue regarding the questionable practices of this business. Men buy credit through their website. They use their credit to buy and send gifts to the women. The women, on the other hand, use the site for free. Right there you can see who’s being exploited the most, who’s the bait, who is the hunter and the hunted. This sounds a lot like exploitation of women to me. They are essentially being offered as merchandise to men who can afford them.

Just to be sure, I am not accusing anyone of forcibly getting women to open a profile on a website and receive gifts from men they don’t even know. Obviously, the women who do this do so with their eyes open. But in a world where women and children are the ones most victimized by sexual exploitation, you have to question the ethics of a business that facilitates the offer of women for sexual gratification, whether consented or not.

Finally, for a business that prides itself in keeping the identity of its clients a secret, even charging extra to those who desire such protection, it must have been a complete shock when hackers announced they had obtained the information of 30,000 plus users and would start releasing their  names to the public if their demands were not met.

So let me get this straight: a business that charges a premium to guarantee your secrecy fails colossally in that task and as a result of names being outed, careers are ruined, families are disrupted, and at least one person ends up taking his own life. What redemption line can there be in this trail of tears? None. Because illicit acts beget illicit acts and when life is reduced to getting as much pleasure as quickly as possible, no one cares about what the consequences of one’s actions might be to the life of another human being. Make no mistake about it: every affair is always unfair to someone, whether you spouse, the spouse of the other person, the children, or anyone else you feel compelled to hide your behavior less they change their opinion of you. In the end, there no winners, only losers.

And these are the reasons I think that engaging Ashley Madison’s services is one of the most selfish acts one could commit. And that’s why I think they are wrong.

Pastor Ivanildo da Costa Trindade
Lead Pastor, Grace Church, Lititz, PA

marginsconference

My wife and I, along with Pastors Andy & Lori Sparks, Willard & Phyllis Willard, Scott & Rebekah Becker (and family), Galen & Elsie Wiley; Wes & Allison Crenshaw, David & Del-Rae Rice, and Joan McCracken, were able to attend the national conference of our fellowship of churches last week in Toronto, Canada.

The theme of the conference was “Margins.” Its purpose was to explore the idea that as followers of Jesus Christ who are intent on sharing the good news, we must go to the margins of society in order to have a chance to be where most people in our world live.

Multiple angles related to this idea of “living in the margins” were explored.

Geographically, we must go out of the places that are familiar and comfortable to us in order to share the good news about Christ. In other words, if you don’t know anyone in your network who still needs Christ, you must branch out. Just saying “I don’t know any non Christians” is not enough. This is on you.

Ideologically, we have to live with the realization that the Church is no longer “the voice” that everyone listens to and respects. We must be content with being “a voice” in the marketplace of ideas and while there we have to be careful not to come across as having a “better than thou” attitude. So if your ears are to pure to hear heresies, if you tend to attack the messenger when hearing blasphemy, you may need an attitude adjust… or a surgically designed ear plug!

Practically, we need to remember that in a world of broken people, it is often the marginalized of our societies that are still willing to give us a listen. If we are afraid, embarrassed, or prejudiced in any way to go to them, we may be missing one of the few remaining groups whose receptivity to the gospel is still somewhat neutral because of their desperate personal needs. A church that goes out of its way to humbly serve the poor and marginalized will see growth from the harvest. But when we do go to them, we also need to make sure that our church spaces and our hearts are big enough to embrace them when they come with all the complexities of their biographies, which they freely bring and are not afraid to share. In other words: Remove the rugs, stuff will no longer be allowed to be go under them.

Theologically, we will need to find new ways to stay true to the Word of God while at the same time not being easily offended by those who hold disparate views. We will need to ask better questions, listen more, and engage in conversations that will allow people to come to the conclusion, on their own, that we have something they don’t. As one speaker put it, quoting a Christian author who has done a lot of thinking and writing on this subject, and I am paraphrasing here: “Live in such a way that people will ask you questions to which Jesus is the answer.”

When I go to these types of conferences, sometimes it takes me weeks, even months, to think through everything I heard and elaborate some conclusions. This time around, though, it was a little different. Speakers were talking about stuff I have been thinking about for a long long time and have already been incorporating in my life. I was humbled to hear some affirmations of things I “hear” the Spirit gently whispering in my ears.

And it all starts with the unmovable conviction that God is always dialoguing with people and our main task is to do everything we can to join the work of God, already in progress, so that Christ’s other friends will get a little closer to the God who created them and wants to have a personal relationship with them. And that’s the fundamental principle I bring to every thought and every activity in my life — I try to live so I can say that at the end of every day I brought someone closer to God.

Better yet, I have it as a most ardent goal to end every 24 hour period of my life having no doubt whatsoever that everyone I interacted with for that period of time was brought closer to God in some way. And I will say more: that’s NOT radical Christian living. Sure, it is supernatural living but not something strange to the Gospel. Rather, it is God’s plan for every follower of Christ, without exception. And some day we will have to respond to God when He asks us why we didn’t make a better effort to live this way.

Pastor Ivanildo da Costa Trindade

Lead Pastor, Grace Church, Lititz, PA

 

WWJS2 PP Slide PEGTheresa Caputo is a mega star. Everything about her is big — the hair, the audience, the high heels, the energy and the excitement. She does not lack confidence and is not deterred by critics. Her success, it appears, has turned her into a sort of female Elliot Ness of reality T.V. She is untouchable. But is she a real medium or a charlatan? Helping people or preying on their emotions at a time when they are most vulnerable?

The answer depends on who you talk to. Her detractors are convinced she is a fraud. From a journalist from her hometown, who wrote a highly critical story after she saw Theresa live, to a mom who was willing to say she got everything wrong, to a fellow medium who wrote about her stage rudeness, the list is endless. Even Andy Cohen from Bravo TV and Anderson Cooper from CNN have joined the ranks of the skeptics, not to say anything about Inside Edition and Wired Magazine.

But before you throw her under the proverbial bus, beware. Her fans number in the tens of thousands. They buy advanced front row tickets to her live shows, receive special surprise gifts, and personal thank you cards — all for $19.99 per month.

Instead of giving a definitive answer about whether Ms. Caputo is a fraud or not, let’s look at some of the claims made by the so-called “Long Island Medium.”

She claims she can speak with the dead. Well, no one can prove that claim. But there are hints. Theresa states that everyone also has the same kind of ability she has. One of the first things she says in her live performances is that she is not trying to make a believer out of anyone. She actually lets everybody know they don’t need to consult a medium, which makes me wonder why the people were not informed of that before they bought their tickets, but that’s just an aside. The reason you don’t need a medium is because you may already be a medium, she says. You just need to cultivate that gift. That’s like speaking with both sides of your mouth.

She claims that our loved ones are always with us, as in the following quote: “… the souls of our loved ones are still with us, loving, guiding, and protecting us from the other side, and that’s what I can give people.” Theresa calls this a “soul bond.” That’s an example of mixing truth with falsehood. “Soul bond,” in the sense of a deeply felt connection we may feel with a departed loved one is perfectly understandable. But that does not mean that there needs to be some kind of physical, sensorial connection with the dead. That’s what we would like to believe because it makes us all feel good, but what we know from Scriptures is that when a person departs this physical world, that person goes to another place to wait the final resurrection and the day of judgment. No one is hanging around dispensing opinions on your cooking or telling you if you should buy a Fiat 500 or a Kia Soul. There is no body-guarding being done by the disembodied.

She claims that this presence can be perceived by odd and weird things. They don’t have to be specific (of course, that would be easier to detect when you are off mark), just oddly familiar and easily detectable. Some of the examples she gives are things like suddenly smelling your mom’s perfume or receiving change in a supermarket that features a coin with the year your loved one died or was born. She calls these “little hellos from heaven,” and urges us to embrace them. But could they be the fruit of an over active brain besought with grief? I have a vivid sensory memory but that doesn’t mean the smells are coming from the beyond. Plus, there are some people whose smells I would rather not embrace… If the dead are sending us messages in every little thing, then the uniqueness of contacting the departed, if there ever was one, would all be lost. Odd and weird things could also only be that — odd and weird things.

She claims to be doing the work of God. In all the barrage of negative comments from acid critics, Ms. Caputo finds comfort in her belief that she has been given by God this incredible gift of helping people in their greatest hour of grief. That she is helping people, at least temporarily, is undeniable — her fans are legion. That the help is from God, I highly doubt, because God made clear to His people in Scriptures that consulting the dead was a wanton act of rebellion, punishable by death in the Mosaic law.

That God would go to great lengths in the Bible to warn us multiple times about this sin, even calling it an “abomination,” seems to indicate to us that there is something that could potentially bring great harm to the believer if s/he were to engage in this practice. My personal conviction is that God knew that behind every so-called “spirit” of a departed one, there is a demon. People may well be talking to someone but I don’t think it’s their dead relatives. It’s the enemy masquerading as an angel of light, giving people false hope based on a lie, and thus derailing them from the path where real peace and real hope come from — a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Theresa Caputo indeed has many gifts, but in my humble opinion, speaking with the dead is not one of them. The rest of her motives, I will leave it up to God to judge. And I will pray for her, as we all should.

Pastor Ivanildo da Costa Trindade

Lead Pastor, Grace Church, Lititz, PA