So, I’m happily making my way to Starbucks, driving my recently purchased 2008 Toyota Corolla, when a guy driving a pick up truck with some extra headlights pulled right next to me and started mumbling something. As we slowed down to get to the stop light, I realized what he was saying. Though I could not hear, the words came loud and clear: “GO BACK TO YOUR COUNTRY!” To make sure I didn’t miss the message, he drew it for me—in the form of some lovely spit in my general direction.

I thought, “Where have I heard such welcoming words before?” No, I didn’t. For a moment, I couldn’t feel my legs. Had I opted for the stick shift version of the Toyota, the car would have stalled right in the middle of the road. I panicked, not sure what would happen next. The angry face of that man was telling me all sorts of things but “you are safe” was not one of them. I avoided my usual route and pulled into the big parking lot of the first grocery store I found. But, to my horror, the truck followed me, next to me, then behind me until it came to rest from a safe distance at the same parking lot to where I had found refuge. I left the engine running, lowered myself on my seat, and watched from the side mirrors for any sign that the car was moving or that someone was walking out of it. After what appeared to be an eternity, though it may only have been five or ten minutes, the truck finally left the parking lot, tuning north, away from the city, into destination unknown.

I sat there, engine still running, unable to move my legs or even my arms to shut the engine down. For the first time in my life, my head felt like it was completely neutralized. The more I tried, the less I was able to hold a coherent thought for more than a few seconds. It was as if my head had been severed from my body and I was no longer a whole person—I had been cut in two by the power of five simple words that, when combined, become weaponized against foreigners like myself.

1. “Go.” But what if I don’t want to ”go”? What if this has been my country for thirty years and I am only interested in staying? Do you have the right to tell me to “go”? I think not.

2. “Back.” But why “back”? Why not “forward”? I came to this country with my family in pursuit of a calling to help people and better our lives. Both things have been realized and I am thankful for the doors that the people in the U. S. have opened to us, so I am not “going back” anywhere. The future belongs to the peacemakers, not the haters, and it belongs to those who believe in moving forward, not back.

3. “To.” This little, innocent preposition points to directions. When joined with “go” and “back” the direction tends to be opposite the person speaking. Ironically, when it is meant as a command to return to one’s love, even the verb changes. It’s never “go back to me;” rather, it’s “come back to me.” “Go” and “to” increase distance, but “come” and “to” shrink it. My experience living in the U. S. has been a series of “comings to,” and your words of hatred will not change that direction.

4. “Your.” A possessive pronoun. How many wars have humans started because that class of pronouns has been appropriated by the “wrong” people? How many lives have been lost because of the quest for ownership? In your mind, “your” country is contrasted with “mine.” You have somehow acquired the rights of ownership to this land that people like me are barred from having. You now have exclusive proprietary rights to this country. What is more, the object of your possession is better than mine, and I, by extension, am of less value than you because the only thing I deserve is “my” rat-infested piece of real state. But what gave you exclusive rights to own this multicultural place called the United States of America? Learn from George Blaurock, a fifteenth century evangelist who, upon being ordered by the authorities to leave the city of Geneva, Switzerland, famously quoted David when he said in Psalm 24, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” And refused to leave…

You may taunt and hunt and blunt the voice of those trying to enter here, but I have been here for thirty years, I like it here, and you can’t make this place more of yours and less of mine just by saying so.

Someday, you might learn a lesson your mother may have tried to teach you when you were little: “Share your toys, son; share your toys.” Guess what? The ground you try to soil with your hatred is also shared by those who, like me, have done you no harm and only want to live in peace in this vast world old Blaurock taught rightly belongs to no other than the same God who made you and me. That ownership title was never “yours” or “mine,” so stop being a squatter and learn to share what has been given to you.

5. “Country.” As I intimated, I have no country. To quote St. Paul, “My citizenship is in heaven.” Though the day is far gone when we could live with open borders, you realize that “countries” are drawn as a result of wars. They are artificial boundaries dictated by the victors and offered to allies as spoils. No person is above the law but no nation is above the law of God either. And there is no greater law than this: “Love your enemies and forgive those who sin against you.” And even your hatred for people like me will not blunt the power of these words when taken to heart.

I am Ivanildo Trindade and I have no travel plans for the moment, though a ticket to Hawaii would be more than welcome (for two!)

Lately, I am hearing some of my evangelical friends vouching for the conversion of some present and past American politicians. I especially hear it stated with reference to our sitting President. To be sure, only God knows what is inside someone’s heart, nonetheless, it is also true that the Word gives us some ways we can test whether someone is giving signs of being a true believer or not. Here are some of them:

1. The test of early enthusiasm. I have been around brand new Christians a lot. My experience is that those who have been transported from the kingdom of darkness into the “kingdom of the Beloved” are usually chomping at the bit to share with others about their new found faith. They have that “we cannot help” attitude reflected in the way the early Apostles reacted when they were told by the authorities to shut up about the Messiah (John 4.19-20). In fact, early in their journey is when new believers are usually most enthusiastic about letting others know about the amazing transformation that happened in their lives. The thought of a reluctant new believer is at a minimum a historical anomaly.

2. The test of fruit. The Bible says in Matthew 7.15-20 that a good tree yields good fruit and a corrupt tree yields evil fruit. In the context, Jesus was pointing out that the way to distinguish between a false prophet and a true prophet was by the type of fruit each produces. Fruit hangs on the outside. In most cases, it is highly visible and when you see it you know right away what kind of fruit it is. No need to ask questions and one is left wondering about the true nature of the stuff hanging from the tree. You don’t need to be an agronomist to know that if the fruit is rotten, there’s something wrong with the tree.

3. The test of good vs. evil deeds. Speaking of fruit, Paul said that the fruit of the Spirit is “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5.22-23). In contrast, the “deeds of the flesh” are “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these” (Galatians 5.19-21). It shouldn’t be that hard to apply that litmus test to anyone you know, including yourself. Where you are caught lingering is where you long to live. And like fruit hanging from a tree, most of these things, especially the ones in the latter category, are things done in public, not hidden from sight. In other words, we are only deceived if we close our eyes and pretend not to see what we are seeing. Conduct betrays conviction, choice reveals character.

4. The test of readiness to witness. Peter encourages believers to always be ready to give an answer as to why they believe. A believer who is not ready to share is in the least a disobedient believer. And the one who shares must do so with “gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3.15). When speaking to others, God tells us to do so with love. To be contentious is universally condemned in Scriptures. One cannot be a believer and remain in a constant state of contentiousness.

5. The test of truth. If you want to judge someone’s character, listen to the words that come out of his or her mouth and compare them with reality. Paul is emphatic when he says that a true believer has put away falsehood and now seeks to speak the truth with his neighbor (Ephesians 4.25). Jesus identified lying as an aspect of Satan’s character and called him “the father of lies” (John 8.44). Now, to be sure, though the Word says lying lips are an “abomination” to the Lord (Proverbs 12.22), it is not the same as saying that it is the unpardonable sin. Nevertheless, someone who is a perpetual liar and doesn’t seem to care about putting up a fight against that practice should have a reason to suspect whether he or she is truly a believer in Christ. Everyone should know a believer first and for most for his or her unmistakable commitment to tell the truth no matter the consequences.

6. The test of Peace. Paul told Timothy that the man of God “must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful” (1 Timothy 2.24). In the passage Paul is talking directly to Timothy, but in a previous verse he uses a more universal language when he says that “anyone” who cleanses himself from wickedness “will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work” (1 Timothy 2.20-21). Regardless of the scope of application, it’s safe to say that someone who is known for constantly picking fights instead of promoting peace may not have the Spirit of God in him or her. A true believer, as far as it depends on him or her, will live in peace with everyone (Romans 12.18). A discontented, divisive, disruptive person is the antithesis of the God-fearing, people-loving, peace-making citizen of the Kingdom, which is not the same as saying that the believer is simply a mat for others to trample on. Believers can live in conflict but not live for conflict.

But after all our opinions are offered, as scripturally sound as they might be, in the end, only God can know perfectly and judge impartially. I am not going to try to usurp God’s place here. But neither will I solemnly swear that certain people are believers, unless I see tangible evidences of that in the way they live their lives. As Paul said, “The Lord knows those who are his,” but let us not forget that he also said, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness” (2 Timothy 2.19).

I wrote this piece for one simple reason: If evangelicals, because of political expediency, continue to lower the bar and contribute to redefining what it means to be truly saved, soon we will no longer need to have the word “again” added to “born-again,” which is the iconic, Jesus inspired-lingo for being truly saved. Nicodemus would then ‘get it’ the first time around! (see John 3.3-4).

Pastor Ivanildo C. Trindade

1. Misplaced priority. When I consider worthy causes to give to, building a wall to keep foreigners out does not come even close to appearing on my list. For example, my town has a poverty level that is 14% higher than the national average. 33.4% of males and 24.3% of females who are considered poor are also disabled. It would be hard for anyone to convince me to give to a wall when I can give to help people who are suffering in my hometown.

2. Misguided solution. According to our own government, almost 50% of illegal immigrants in the U. S. are NOT people who crossed the border—they are people who simply overstayed their visas. Giving toward building a wall does not address this critical problem with our immigration system. If politicians really wanted to accomplish something positive, at least as a first step, they should initiate a process to deport those who abuse the privilege of being a guest in this country and change the law to permanently close that loophole.

3. Misinformed notion of effectiveness. In the debate about border security, comparison with Israel is a constant. The problem with that argument is that it fails to account for a multiplicity of other measures that over the years have been implemented by the Israeli government to keep terrorists at bay, including the development of super innovative high tech tools, the use of extremely intrusive methods of vigilance, the massive presence of heavily armed personnel everywhere, the use of precision and persistent training, as well as the toleration for an ample latitude to kill anyone deemed a threat to security. In other words, to simply say “the wall works in Israel” is a gross oversimplification of what has really taken place in that country. Perhaps saying “the wall is one of the factors” would be more palatable to people like me. Either way, I would not give to a cause that promises something I know it cannot deliver.

4. Exaggerated threat. I know it’s hard for many North Americans to see this but the fact is that historically terrorism threats or acts have not been committed by people who crossed the border illegally into the U. S. I am not saying we should not be vigilant nor do I side with those who believe in open borders, which I consider to be an unworkable idea, even in the age of turbo globalism. However, I will not support a cause that has been hyped to a level of insanity simply to feed the fears of those who would vote for a candidate who would “build a wall to keep America safe.” That, in my opinion, is fear-mongering and I despise that kind of tactic.

5. Limited funds. I consider myself a hardworking individual. But like many others in this country, I don’t have a lot of “discretionary money” laying around. So, I give to my church, to a few charities I identify with, and to some occasional needs that arise within my network of friends and acquaintances. Beyond that, I volunteer my time and talents. With all due respect to the need to keep the nation safe, which I believe should be a priority of any government, personally, I would rather put my efforts into building bridges, not walls. Building walls is not exactly what I have been called to do. And that’s why I give to causes that have Christ at the center—He is the ultimate bridge maker.

Ivanildo C. Trindade

This is my response to what I heard from the President last night. 😭

What Did He See?

By Ivanildo C. Trindade

I saw a group of people armed with torches, echoing the words from the graves of forgotten haters, but what did he see?

I saw symbols proudly displayed, emblems of division from an era now condemned by all people of good will, but what did he see?

I saw a car leap forward like a blunt instrument, driven by nothing but a desire to inflict pain, but what did he see?

I saw men in pathetic uniforms, pretending to be heroes of a war in which the losing side seems to be hungry for a rematch, but what did he see?

I saw the anguished looks on the faces of bystanders forced to remember the atrocities committed against their ancestors, but what did he see?

I saw confusion and chaos, grief and lament for a time when little children could still be spared the rod of racial bigotry, but what did he see?

Were we looking at the same image or did our brain waves go haywire as they went from plasma to persuasion?

We are left to wonder whether what is seen is the real deal or only what we choose to see.

Is this ‘selecting seeing’ a new type of moral imperative for those too lazy to bend to the canons of common sense?

Did we see the same thing or do we simply have two sets of eyes — one irrevocably bent to scan the cry of solitary humans and another, burdened by a drive for self-preservation, which renders the owner incapable of noticing the river of tears already flooding our cities?

While the ancients said you have to see in order to believe, what irony such times bring — that one sees but refuses to believe while claiming everyone else sees what he sees. Or at least they ought to.

To reset the order of the cosmos, shouldn’t we at least demand to know what for the love of God did he truly see?

August 16, 2017

I was honored to preach at Celebrate Christ Church today. If you would like to watch some (or all of it), please click on the link below:

In a world marked by easy connectivity and rapid mobility, we tend to forget the beauty of the concept of “home.” Ask a typical young person today where home is and chances are they will not know what to tell you. Home could be where you spent most of your life, where you went to college or where you met your now husband. But mostly, when we speak of “home,” we are talking about the place of our childhood, sometimes even the physical place where you spent your formative years — a house,  city, a farm. But mostly, home is where your strongest affections still reside. As they like to say, “home is where your heart is.”

Followers of Christ often make the mistake of living as if the current zip code where they now receive their mail is their permanent dwelling place. Without realizing it, they make preparations to stay here and thus lose the joy of anticipation for heaven. In fact, heaven becomes an after thought, very much like a trailer attached to the luxury SUV in which you travel comfortably to your vacation spot. Instead of a dstination, heaven becomes a fading imagination; instead of longing for it and bringing the reality of it into our mostly mundane existence, we fix our eyes on the stuff of earth and fail to see the luxury of heaven. We live for 9 to 5 when we should be looking for eternity. 

Having been born overseas, I understand very well the reality of living in one place while longing for another. That, to me, is the ultimate calling of every Christ-follower — fully engaged here while fully excited about the hearafter. 

I still remember the first time our whole family went back to Brazil after being in the U.S. for a few years. For months we talked about it. We spent endless hours packing and made many trips to stores in order to buy gifts for our relatives. As we got closer to the big day, the excitement only grew. We were pulling many all-nighters, spreading things all over the house, being more lax with the children’s bed time, and (gasp!) eating microwaveable food. 

None of this, however, mattered to us. And for one simple reason: We were going home! And when you are going home you savor every moment leading up to the big trip with extraordinary anticipation. We talk about some of the things we will do as soon as we got there, we make lists of people we have to see, foods we have to eat, places we have to visit. We get simply consumed with the thought of going home and it’s okay.

Later, as I pondered on that experience, I thought: Wow, if this is true of going home to be reunited momentarily with our earthly family, how much more should we get excited about being forever united with our Father and our beloved Messiah, Jesus Christ? We should be shouting for joy right now at the thought of going to heaven and living today, as the old hymn says, as one who is passing through, only on business for the King. But are we?

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’” (Revelation 21:1-4). 

Pastor Ivanildo C. Trindade