Archives for category: Religions of The World

ROTW

The task of teaching on Hinduism is akin to looking through a kaleidoscope (I know. I’m dating myself here!). What this means is that depending on each way you look and how you move the instrument, you will be seeing different forms with different shapes and ever expanding and seemingly endless contracting patterns every time. So the student can only be sure that he can never be sure. At one moment, he sees it, then it is gone, then he sees it again. The fast pace of the changing colors and shapes finally makes him question whether he might not simply be seeing an illusion.

Hinduism developed over a period of 3,000+ years when civilizations collided in the Indus Valley and different peoples came crashing through the scene, bringing their natural religions with a reverence to all things matter, which then mixed with notions of the local people who for thousands of years had already been idol worshippers. Over time Hinduism gave birth to a multi-faceted philosophy, embracing elements of paganism, atheism, polytheism and even monotheism. The sacred writings of Hinduism have no doubt inspired entire systems of knowledge and some of the brightest minds in our world have engaged the discussion throughout the ages. The reach of the literature is no doubt breathtaking.

Some common traits, however, keep emerging through the ages, for example, the belief in something ultimate, which we may call god, who is not indistinguishable from nature. Theologians call this “monism,” as opposed to “dualism,” where God is outside of nature. In classical Hinduism one is liberated from the cycle of suffering by finally understanding that he and the divine are one (“Thou art that”). By being united with the ultimate Supreme Being, one enters a state of superior consciousness.

Just like Buddhism and Jainism, which came later in time, Hinduism also relies on a system of accumulation of good and bad karma, which will only end when enough good karma has been accumulate through eons and the person finally achieves freedom. This presupposes reincarnation, of course.

Volumes after volumes have been produced to explain karma and reincarnation. Some argue that this system offers a better explanation for the problem of suffering in the world, but I still wonder about what moral force outside of a personal God, could give people rumors of morality in a materialistic world or even in a world where God and nature are one.

Also, I am not convinced that a system of justice based on the laws of karma and reincarnation meets the test of true justice. If the person is reincarnated in a totally different form (a slave for example) and thus ceases to exist in its previous form, how is justice served in the case of a truly evil person like Hitler, for example. Doesn’t the suffering of each subsequent reincarnation create more suffering to the point that it becomes virtually impossible to catch up with one’s badness? And is the suffering of the next reincarnation still technically Hitler’s suffering?

Hinduism also bears the stamps of the mythical gods of the Greeks and Romans, who were often given to debauchery, indolence, fits of rage, and indulgence in all sorts of behavior that would be abhorrent to many of their devotees. I can’t possibly understand the constant burdens of caring for and worshipping gods whose moral authority is undermined by their too human and often bizarre behavior.

Contrast that with the simplicity of the proposition that there is an all-powerful and just God who in spite of his total “otherness” makes it possible for us to approach Him personally through the person of His incarnate Son, Jesus Christ. His Son towered over everyone with His ethical standards and He was an indefatigable friend of all manners of rejected and despised human beings.

Instead of piling on demand upon demand on His potential worshippers, He offers them the possibility of peace with God and reconciliation with each other, not by following a set of rules but by renouncing a master plan for a life ruled by self. Instead of giving us a list of do’s and don’ts to achieve ultimate liberation, instead of demanding renunciation of everything, even that which could be called “good” in this life, He calls us to renounce sin by accepting His sacrifice on our behalf. “By His wounds we are healed.”

Instead of karma, He offers us grace (unmerited, undeserving gift). Instead of reincarnation, He offers us resurrection and demonstrates its plausibility by giving up His own life and then living again after three days. Instead of trying our hardest to run ahead of our mischief, He offers us the supernatural enabling of the Holy Spirit so we can live a life above the muck of humanity marred by sin. Instead of the eternal threat of a severe downgrade in the next life, He offers us the mother of all upgrades – a glorified body in a newly created paradise where there will be no more pain or death or suffering. “He will wipe away all tears from their eyes.”

Obviously, I am biased in my convictions. But if life is all illusory anyway, I would rather go with my version of illusory. Wouldn’t you?

Pastor Ivanildo C. Trindade

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ROTWThis Sunday I will speak about Atheism. This topic is much more than an academic exercise for me. Here is my story.

I grew up in a very strong Christian family. My dad is 85 and he has been a pastor almost as long as I’ve existed. I went to seminary, pastored overseas, became a missionary in the U.S., and served for 12 years with a ministry to internationals. So you can imagine the shock when my teenage son announced to the world via social media that he didn’t believe anything he had been taught about Christianity and didn’t want to have anything to do with it from that point on.

Saying I was in shock would not even come close. Here I was, traveling across the world (I was in Asia when he made that announcement), helping people understand the truth of Christ while in fact I was, so to speak, sleeping with the “enemy” in my own household!

Like a storm irrupting through the bright summer sky, I quickly learned that for years my son had been drinking at the fountain of secularism and he was intoxicated with it. His church was in YouTube and his “gurus” were the various incarnations of a new and virulent form of atheism which has captivated the minds of so many young people of his generation.

In the weeks, months, and years that followed, he would accuse me of a form of child abuse for “indoctrinating” him with Christian teachings, which he found hard to extirpate from his conscience. He would call my wife and me delusional and proclaim the superiority of his position, often with angry words, in the many conversations about faith we began to have.

Soon I discovered that the absence of a father who was out to save the world had driven my son away from God. I learned that church experience that had no room for doubts or dissenting voices had shown him the door which he gladly took and vowed never to enter again.

I had to start over with my son. My wife and I had to love our son like we never had before. We learned to bite our tongues, fetter our passions, and swallow our pride. And worst of all, we had to suffer alone. People in church can tolerate the son of a pastor who gets a girl pregnant, is caught for D.U.I. or steals a couple of computers from the local Wal-Mart. But not too many can put up with a “black sheep” who jumped to the other side. In one of my job interviews for senior pastor, one of the elders claimed that I didn’t have my house under control because of my son’s behavior. And I had just stated that my son was having a vigorous intellectual debate with God!

Little by little, though, my son started to let us back into his life again. My wife gets the credit here for calling him to task on a lot of issues where she saw inconsistencies. I sometimes would sit in the family room and pretend I was not there listening to the spirited debates they were having. “You pride yourself of not listening to the ‘garbage’ we are exposed to in church, but I’ve been listening to these guys on this video for half an hour and they are just talking non-sense; how’s that different from church non-sense?”  “At least these guys are not appealing to some higher authority or a book that is thousands of years old and full of scientific blunders, Mom!”

And back and forth they went, into the wee hours of the morning, until I would fall asleep on the couch, partly from physical exhaustion, partly from the kind of agony that only those who have been disappointed with God can feel. Our tears were too many, our prayers too ineffective, our words too inadequate. We were losing the battle.

But then something extraordinary happened. Our son agreed to go to a retreat hosted by the college group in the church my youngest daughter attended, Xenos Christian Fellowship in Columbus, OH. That retreat planted the seeds of hope in his heart. There, he found some people who, like him, were looking for answers, and an environment where they were not discouraged from expressing their doubts.

That experience, coupled with some robust conversations and an overdose of genuine Christian love, I believe, brought my son back into the loving arms of His Father. Today, he is all in with Jesus Christ and my wife and I rejoice at God’s faithfulness in this situation.

There is a lot more to this story, and I hope someday my son will tell it himself. For now, he has given me permission to share this much. His story illustrates how real and potentially devastating the issue of secularism is in the life of our young people. If we love them, we must prepare them to do battle with a world out there which is intent on taking them from the fold of faith to that of nothingness. Let’s not allow that to happen.

Pastor Ivanildo C. Trindade

ROTW

My daughter flew first class to Seattle this week. The reason? A nice guy had planned an expensive getaway trip with his girlfriend, but before they could bask on the glory of first class flying, the girlfriend dumped him. Somehow the airline got a wind of that and I guess as a consolation, they bumped my daughter to first class so he wouldn’t be all alone… I am thinking, is this even appropriate? I don’t know, but it happened just a couple of days ago.

So my daughter said the guy was drinking too much. She tried to talk to him about God and he immediately said, “I don’t talk about religion, politics or music.” It was a quiet trip from then on. I am thinking, could be this reason he got dumped? I don’t know, but it makes me wonder.

Yes, talking about religion, especially if it is not your own, is not an enviable task. Suffice it to say that the first couple of Sundays of the series “Religions of the World” at Grace Church have provoked some “fireworks,” the type that only happens occasionally, if that. The reactions are all over the board. The vast majority is overwhelmingly positive and encouraging. But the fireworks happen on the extremities. Some think I am being too “soft;” others, that I am “bashing” other religions. As my old ethics professor used to say, “It’s impossible to please Greeks and Trojans,” so I’m not even going to try. I must simply move forward, guided by some careful study and deep convictions, and always grounded on the Word of God.

This week I will be speaking about Roman Catholicism. On some levels it is so much easier to talk about Islam and Buddhism than it is about the Roman Catholic Church. We originated from the same tree and before Constantine there was only one universal (the meaning of the word “Catholic”) Church. But over the years things changed and schism happened. I used the word “schism” because that is important for Catholic theologians. They insist on distinguishing between “schism,” which means a “parting of ways,” and “heresy,” which means false teaching. So after Vatican II they no longer consider Protestants, Orthodox, Anglicans, etc. “heretics.” We are now “separated brothers.” But are we?

Let’s see, Roman Catholic theology teaches that the Bible and the traditions and creeds of the Church carry the same authority. They teach that Mary remained a perpetual virgin, before, during, and after the Birth of Christ. They believe that observing the sacraments is essential to salvation. Without baptism in the Church, for example, one cannot be saved. And one of the sacraments, communion, gives believers the opportunity to partake of the literal blood and body of Christ when they take the elements. The Pope is also infallible when he speaks “ex-cathedra” (from the chair, meaning the Apostle Peter’s seat of authority).

But by far the most spectacular difference between Protestant and Catholic theology is the teaching about salvation. Roman Catholicism never admits that salvation is by faith ALONE through Christ ALONE. This is at the core of the understanding of regeneration and justification in the Protestant tradition.

Roman Catholics believe that Christ’s sacrifice earned enough merit with God but now we must appropriate those merits through the Church and its sacraments.

Now, I am not making this stuff up. I am not “bashing” anyone. I am simply reading this off of the Catholic Catechism. It is there for all to see. In fact, the Vatican spokesperson recently addressed that, in response to Pope Francis’ statement that even atheists can go to heaven if they do good work. Obviously, the Vatican had to scramble to correct the Pope:

“… all salvation comes from Christ, the Head, through the Church which is his body. Hence they cannot be saved who, knowing the Church as founded by Christ and necessary for salvation, would refuse to enter her or remain in her.” (Fr. Thomas Rosica).

Now, if I asked here, “was the Pope speaking ex-cathedra when he said that?” I could probably be accused of either a bad attempt at humor or a successful “bashing” of the Pope. But I am not saying that, I am just showing the difference between “bashing” and “contrasting.”

By way of contrast, here is what the Scriptures say,

“And this is the record: that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life.” (I John 5:11-12).

I will do some more “contrasting” this Sunday, don’t miss it. And please remember: nothing wrong with dumping a guy for the right reason. :).

See you Sunday!

Pastor Ivanildo C. Trindade

ROTW

If you snoop around the Internet for quotes by famous people, I am sure you have come across this quote attributed to Albert Einstein: “Buddhism has the characteristics of what would be expected in a cosmic religion for the future: It transcends a personal God, avoids dogmas and theology; it covers both the natural and the spiritual, and it is based on a religious sense aspiring from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity… If there is any religion that could cope with modern scientific needs it would be Buddhism.”

The problem: this is more than likely a spurious quote. No one has ever been able to demonstrate that Einstein actually said that. This, however, hasn’t stopped prominent Buddhist websites, including The Buddhist Blog and Progressive Buddhism. I guess that is understandable, just like many Christians grasping for support of the possibility of God, breathed a sigh of relief when they came to the concluding statement in Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time, when he said, “However, if we discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable by everyone, not just by a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason — for then we should know the mind of God.” Except that Stephen Hawking actually did say that. But, on the other hand, he has since then clarified his position and positively said that God didn’t create the world.

So believers and non-believers alike are always looking for support from people with brilliant minds. But Buddhism needs no such re-enforcement. What it offers the post-modern man, if it can deliver, is nothing short of miraculous: a religion without a supreme being and a morality without God. An explanation to the problem of suffering that altogether avoids the possibility of a good God who allows evil in the world. A path for “salvation” that does not ask anyone to look anywhere but inside herself. And to boot a proven formula to help one rid himself of the cravings of the material world.

Who would be crazy to reject such menu of religious non-religious possibilities? But as they say, the devil is in the details.

To begin with, in Asia, the part of the world where Buddhism thrives, people are still plagued by superstition and burdened with the daily tasks of trying to please spirits that are capricious or downright evil.

Then the “explanation” to the problem of evil collapses when the system fails to explain a metaphysical force that determines which acts are good and which are bad in the great Karma math, especially if you don’t start with a being that is moral and suspended from everything also in the universe. An impersonal force making moral decisions about people’s actions — is that really reasonable?

Thirdly, for a system that promises enlightenment, and presents the possibility of a higher plane of living where one can rid himself from suffering, not to concern itself with the ultimate cause of suffering, namely death, seems a little weird at best. And yet Buddhists everywhere extol Buddhism exactly because it is not concerned with such “trivial” matters. I have only one word for that: resurrection. If resurrection is true, reincarnation is unnecessary. If resurrection is how I come back, that means that I am unavailable for recycling. Sorry ants, you will have to look for another body…

Finally, there is a concern I have with any system that places the burden of redemption or “enlightenment” on the individual himself. In other words, I don’t agree with the premise that the answer to our anguish is found within ourselves. I don’t believe man is capable of ridding himself from cravings and desires, no matter how much he applies himself to meditation or concentration. I think the Buddha proved that himself when he tried asceticism and found it wanting.

The Bible says that what we need is not gradual change over eons, as the Buddhists believe, but radical transformation. Paul put it this way, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” (2 Corinthians 5:7). This does not mean that we are instantaneously perfected, but it means that at the moment we come to Christ with a repentant heart, He changes us radically from inside out. It is a process that starts now and will go on until we see Him face to face. This does not require eons of purging bad acts and accumulating good karma. Buddhists, in my opinion, appear to be in a perpetual 12-Step program to better themselves, only, in their case, it is more like a 12-billion step program.

Sorry. I just can’t buy that. And if you want to know why, please see me Sunday.

Pastor Ivanildo C. Trindade

ROTW

Teaching Christians about Islam is a daunting task. I guess that is the reason not too many preachers devote much time for that.

Islam is a complex religion. Though it is a world religion with many unified core beliefs, there are approximately 3500 sects in Islam. Though it is followed by more than one billion people in the world (estimated growth to 2.2. billion by 2030), it is a small minority that commands the attention of the world. Though its Holy book, the Qur’an is filled with admonitions to be gracious and compassionate toward others, it is the few verses about waging war against the infidels that often make the news.

Islam is a religion of paradox, starting with the paradox of having an unlearned, illiterate man, produce one of the greatest literary work, religious or not, in the Arabic language in all of history. You have some brilliant minds who have expounded on the difficult topics found in the Qur’an, while some communities of Muslims are led by illiterate men who can only recite what they have memorized from their childhood.

Other paradoxes include a religion that claims to have the idea of peace embedded in the very word that names the faith while its founder, who was also a military leader, didn’t hesitate to pick up arms and wage wars against his opponents. Islam also receives harsh criticism for its treatment of women in places where the Law of Islam (Sharia) rules, and yet by all accounts its founder was known to be generally kind to women.

There is, to be sure, a menacing, virulent form of Islam which dominates much of our world. Islam continues to be the only religion in which a former practitioner, say one who converted to Christianity, for example, is in immediate danger of suffering material loss, if not loss of life. Many converts have to remain silent about their new found faith or flee for their lives. A person voicing any criticism against Islam can also become an immediate target for execution by certain groups.

This is not just speculation, it is a fact. In the Netherlands, Theo van Gogh, a film director who made a movie about Islam’s harsh treatment of women was later brutally murdered on the streets as a sign to anyone not to mess with Islam. Salmon Rushdie, who wrote Satanic Verses, had to go into hiding for the longest time. A Danish cartoonist who drew pictures poking fun at Muhammad, had to be put into protective custody at once. The cartoons themselves caused riots, including deaths, around the world. And on top of all of that, Islamic countries lead the statistics in terms of places where persecution against Christians is still rampant. These examples are undeniable and there are many hundreds more I could cite.

These are some of the reasons why tackling a subject such as Islam in a typical evangelical church is a challenge of gigantic proportions. But it must be done. If for no other reason, it must be done because Christians in general are so ill-informed about Islam. The paradoxical nature of Islam, the bent toward violence on the part of some groups, 9-11, the Boston bombings, etc., etc., have convinced many that Muslims are the enemies and we must oppose them at every turn. That is, however, a huge mistake.

Here are some additional mistakes Christians in general make about Islam:

1. The holy book of Islam, the Qur’an, is NOT an equivalent to what the Bible is for Christians. Christians think nothing of setting their Bibles on the floor or letting the grease of a burger fall all over its cover, but Muslims will not allow their copy of the Qur’an to be placed anywhere below their waist. The Qur’an, for Muslims, is not an inspired book written by human authors who were supervised by God. Rather, it is the very words of God, dictated to the Prophet Muhammad, word for word, punctuation by punctuation, enunciation by enunciation. As one author said, if for Christians Christ is the Word made flesh, for Muslims the Qur’an is the Word made book. The Qur’an, thus, is an instrument of Divine will; it is the ultimate Word of God, of which a tablet is preserved by God in heaven.

And this word is only in Arabic, since that was the language in which it was delivered to the Prophet. All other versions of the Qur’an in any other language are not the Qur’an but merely interpretations of it. That is why Muslims of any ethnicity anywhere memorize and recite the Qur’an in Arabic, regardless of whether they understand what they are saying or not. People, including pastors, who have the audacity of suggesting or actually carrying out the act of burning copies of the Qur’an have no idea about how egregious this act is for a Muslim. Think about some of the modern “art” that has dared depicting Jesus in human feces and you will begin to understand the outrageous nature and stupidity of such an act.

2. Not every Muslim sympathizes with acts of violence committed in the name of Islam. There are 3-6 million Muslims in the U.S., depending on who you listen to. In any case, it is a staggering number. The vast majority of these folks are peaceful people. They are conservative in the way they dress. In fact, I have brought some Muslims as guest to churches in the past and they were scandalized by the way some of the people dressed to go to church. They are family oriented people. They believe in some core moral values of fearing God and doing good to your fellow human beings. They are not at war with Christianity or the West. They are just trying to make it in this brave new world. If you try to get to know them, you will find that in many ways they resemble you with your dreams and aspirations for a better future.

3. Muhammad was not a terrorist. You remember when the most Reverend Jerry Falwell announced on public T.V. that Muhammad was a terrorist. The next day six Christians got killed as a result of riots in Indonesia. Mr. Falwell should have known better. There are things you never say in public even if you believe them in private. Muhammad was a warrior, yes, but his wars were by and large in response to enemies who were attacking him. From the tradition of the Qur’an and the Hadiths (sayings and customs of the prophet catalogued by his companions), it seems obvious that Muhammad was by nature a kind and devoted man. He was not a perfect man by any stretch of imagination, but he doesn’t come across to me as a criminal either. Christians need to learn to respect Muhammad, if for no other reason, only for the fact that he commands the allegiance of about one third of the world’s population today.

4. Islam is more than a religion, it is a way of life. In my previous life as a director of a non-profit working with internationals, I dialogued with a Muslim in one of our churches. When it was time for question and answer, one lady briefly shared her story about how she became a Christian, then she asked my friend, Mahmud, “When did you become a Muslim?” He looked at me with this puzzled look on his face and asked, “What does she mean?” The question didn’t make sense to him because no one ever “becomes” a  Muslim, you are born into it. It is part of who you are when you live in a Muslim country and it regulates your life, from what you eat to what you give to the poor, to how you should pray and how many times, to who you should marry and how many times, etc., etc.

There is so much more I could say but this post is quickly becoming a compendium. Let me just say that the saddest thing I heard in connection with the recent bombings in Boston, in addition to the loss of lives and limbs, and the pain of those who survive, was the statement regarding the older brother, the one who was killed by police. At some point in the last couple of years, he said, “I don’t understand Americans. I have no American friends.” I just have to wonder whether the story would have ended differently if one, just one Christ-follower, had reached out in love to those two young men. That thought has kept me awake many hours.

Please come this Sunday as we kick off our series on “Religions of the World,” starting with Islam. And please pray for me as I preach this message.

Pastor Ivanildo C. Trindade

Growing up in a “Protestant” church in Brazil put me at odds with society at large. Catholicism was then, and still is — though it has lost scores of “faithful” over the last couple of decades — the dominant religion of the nation. My friends in school harassed me for being “Protestant.” They would bring little images of Mary engraved on cheap paper and dared me to step on it — “if you are really a man.” I never did it, not for fear of Mary but for fear of men…

My hometown of Belem, northern Brazil, boasts the biggest Catholic procession anywhere in the country — a million plus people, following the image of Mary for miles, thanking her for a “miracle” or begging her to intervene in a supernatural way. The reverence for the Madonna is everywhere, even in the prevalence of female names starting with Maria. “Maria do Socorro” (“Help”), “Maria das Dores” (“Pain”), “Maria da Luz” (“Light), “Maria de Nazare” (“Nazareth”), “Maria da Anunciacao” (“Annunciation”), “Maria das Gracas” (“Grace”), “Maria de Lurdes” (“Lourdes”), “Maria dos Remedios” (“Medicine”), etc., etc. There is never a shortage of women named “Maria” in Latin America!

All of this emphasis on Mary, though, tended to suffocate people like me. But with time I came to realize that while the Catholics are guilty of “Mari-olotry” (the worship of Mary), Protestants are guilty of “Mari-aversion.” And because of my upbringing, I ended up becoming very distant from Mary. She was almost never talked about in church, except briefly on Christmas Eve, as she sat there mute in front of the baby Jesus. Mary became the invisible Bible character, most important for our understanding of Jesus’ human origin, but too dangerous to emphasize because another group of believers chose to elevate to a level above humans.

So I forgot about Mary…

But over time God has presided over a rehabilitation of Mary and her status in my heart. I began to see her as the Mother of my Lord she was. Not the “Mother of God,” but the “Mother of the Son of God.” God in flesh had a mother and her name was Maria. No, there was nothing inherently special about this young lady, but I learned that the Angel Gabriel did call her “highly favored.” In other words, God had gifted her with the greatest gift ever — that of carrying in her belly, and cradling in her arms the One who would bring salvation to the whole world.

And God picked “Maria” to display His unmerited favor on. He didn’t pick Anna or Rebecca. He picked “Maria.” And we ought to recognize that and celebrate her as the Mother of our Lord.

Not only that, Mary was a woman of courage. Think about the circumstances of her pregnancy… And the dangers associated with the way she gave birth to the Messiah — many miles away from the comforts of home, in a makeshift room, surrounded by animals… And then she was forced to relocate to a foreign country… And, to top all that, in all likelihood, at some point before Jesus even achieved adulthood, she became a single mom, with the death of Joseph.

So a picture begins to emerge: the evangelical church has done a disservice so Mary. In our attempt not to worship her, which the Bible doesn’t warrant, we have rendered her life meaningless.

Well, this Sunday I intend to set the record straight. Don’t miss it!

Pastor Ivanildo C. Trindade