Archives for posts with tag: forgiveness

Minimizing Your Suffering

A good friend, who has had a front roll seat to my recent travails, after reading my previous post, told me to that he thought I didn’t do justice to the severity of my losses. 

If I did that, it was by no means intentional. Minimizing suffering — whether yours or your neighbor’s — is never helpful, and especially for someone who, is seeking some measure of healing for his soul through sharing his story. But we must be careful not to overdue it. Even our lamentation must come with moderation.

My friend pointed out Paul’s lists of hardships, as if to say that “if it was good enough for the good Apostle, it must be good enough for you.” Indeed, at least on two occasions, Paul gives us some pretty disturbing accounts of the kind of trials he had to face as a follower of Christ, including such things as torture, famine and stoning. 

Paul’s list in 2 Corinthians 11:16-33 would in those days be a bad tool for any recruiter trying to convince soldiers to join the ranks of the ‘Christian army.’ Imagine the scene: “Before you sign your contract, you need to see this video of the greatest missionary that ever lived talking about his exploits for Christ. Roll it!” By the time it was over, potential recruits would be bolting for the exit. And modern-day evangelists would be left wondering: “whatever happened to the whole part about God having “a wonderful plan” for my life?

But like I told my friend, I am no Apostle Paul. The first part of my first name means ‘John’ and my last name means ‘Trinity,’ but as far as I know, there is already a best friend of Jesus named John and there is no vacancy in the Trinity, which makes me feel a little sheepish sharing the details of my sufferings. 

But there are other (serious) reasons for my reticence. Even Paul, in the passage I just mentioned, only acted when he was provoked by some bragging by his opponents that was unfair and not based on facts. Twice, Paul speaks of how irregular his kind of response was. Before he starts with his litany of suffering, he says he’s speaking like a fool. When he gets into it, he quite bluntly says that only a madman talks the way he’s talking. There is a warning there to tread lightly. 

Another reason is that it is nearly impossible to be specific about my desert-like experience, while isolating it from the people who were responsible for the decision that put me in that position. No matter how objective I might try to be, people will work overtime to discover connections to individuals who were part some recent decisions in my life. In this small universe in which I live, it would be easy for someone to go on a witch hunt. Beware: even your well intended laments can potentially turn into a libel against people you would never intentionally want to hurt. In the end, your words may become fodder for innuendos and speculations. I’m having none of that.

That is not to say that the pain isn’t real or personal. Believe me, it’s the real thing and it is extremely personal but for that very reason, I have to remember that when I try to describe it it’s like seeing things through my own set of 3-D glasses. Humans don’t simply react to experiences, they interpret them, attribute value to them and often assign blame. It’s enough that I do that in my own head — believe me, I am no saint! — so I will choose to spare you from an ugly display of my own propensity to carnality by not speaking ill of my detractors. 

Speaking of carnality, when we go around “sharing our troubles,” if we are not careful, we end up often serving some red meat, whether we intended to do it or not. And that’s what so many people crave for, isn’t it? We are surrounded by people who dream of seeing others air their dirty laundry! I have been goaded to serve red meat on a silver platter, but I keep asking myself: what would that prove except perhaps that I might be an old fool that can’t move beyond an offense?

Again, this is not saying that there isn’t stuff bleeding in my ‘fridge.’ The events surrounding the loss of my job have enough red meat in them to allow me to open a thriving meat market. But what would the point be? By now the meat is all spoiled and only the vultures would relish it. 

No, I am not giving you any red meat. But that doesn’t mean that I might not indulge in some foolishness like Paul did. So, in order to satisfy my friend who has been in the mud with me, I will give you not red meat but a little bit of the vinegar mixed with gull (of much better quality than the one they served Jesus) we have been given to drink. 

As part of our suffering, my wife and I have done a fair amount of crying, of the type we had not experienced since the loss of our first son. The first couple of months we didn’t know what to do with ourselves. Weekends were especially hard, sleeping was nearly impossible and the false alarm of the Sunday morning anticipation kept ambushing me mercilessly. To give you an idea, it was the first time in twenty five plus years that I was not involved in some aspect — planning and/or speaking — of an Easter Sunday. Talk about a very ironic way to mark the occasion of the sufferings of the Messiah. Resurrection couldn’t come sooner! As far as my dear wife, to this day, she still has a recurring nightmare about trying to get inside the church building from every entrance and being barred access. And what to say about her missing the children she watched while their mothers met for Bible study? I could go on and on but now I am truly speaking like a madman. Enough of that!

Humans are not only bound to interpret their experiences, they are also apt to absorb them. Live long enough and you will eventually laugh at your troubles and realize how ephemeral they really are. In this world, we are just passing through. The best is yet to come. Try to avoid blaming anyone for how you react to, interpret and absorb your sufferings. Individuals or groups may get you off track temporarily but they don’t have the power to derail you. That is something only God can do but the good news is that’s not His game. On the contrary, it is often through your groaning that God is growing you. Learn to embrace that. 

I must not close this commentary before mentioning the example of our Lord. Peter says (in the KJV): “… when he was reviled, he reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously.” (1 Peter 2:23). There you have it: Jesus didn’t take revenge and the reason he didn’t is because He knew that God would ultimately take care of the situation and that He would do that with absolute and perfect justice. That no doubt is still the best reason to date to not retaliate against others. It’s an effective deterrent to a bad habit we have — that of blowing the trumpet loudly with the menu of our own sufferings at the hands of our fellow humans. Forgive and let God take care of the rest. Try to handle it yourself and you will be doing a job above your pay grade. As we say in Portuguese, “Learn to stick to your station.” Translation (in any language): stay humble. And keep working for God’s shalom.

Pastor Ivanildo C. Trindade 

June 2017

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O Ato de Minimizar o Seu Sofrimento 

Um grande amigo meu, um daqueles que têm observado de perto as minhas agruras desses últimos meses, depois de ler a minha última postagem, reclamou comigo que talvez eu tenha pecado por ter minimizado a severidade das minhas perdas. 

Se eu fiz isso, não foi propositalmente. Minimizar o sofrimento, seu ou alheio, nunca é benéfico e especialmente para alguém que busca algum grau de ajuda para curar sua alma através do ato de compartilhar sua história. Mas sem exageros, claro. Tudo com moderação, até a nossa lamentação. 

O meu amigo assinalou o exemplo das listas de auguras de Paulo, assim como que dizendo: “se o próprio Paulo se prestou a isso, por que não você?” De fato, em pelo menos duas ocasiões, Paulo nos descreve alguns episódios pouco agradáveis de suas aventuras como um seguidor de Cristo. 

A lista de 2 Coríntios 11:16-33 é de meter medo, incluindo tortura, fome e apedrejamento. Seria uma péssima peça de recrutamento de um possível soldado do ‘exército de Cristo’ naqueles dias. Imagine a cena: “Antes de você assinar o seu contrato, você precisa assistir a esse vídeo do maior missionário que já existiu falando de suas aventuras em prol de Cristo. Rola a fita!” Nem bem o vídeo termina e o cara sai de carreira pela saída mais próxima. E os evangelistas modernos ficariam se perguntando: e o que aconteceu com a história de que Deus tem um “plano maravilhoso” para a minha vida?

Mas, que me desculpe o meu amigo, eu não sou nenhum Apóstolo Paulo. Sim, é verdade que a primeira parte do meu nome significa “João” e o meu sobrenome é “Trindade”, mas se não me falha a memória, Jesus já tem um melhor amigo chamado João e não há vaga na Trindade, o que me deixa meio que sem jeito para falar falar dos meus sofrimentos.

Mas há razões mais sérias para a minha relutância. Até o próprio Paulo, na passagem mencionada acima, só agiu quando foi provocado pelos seus antagonistas. Isso deveu-se a certas jactâncias que eles proferiram, as quais não eram nem justas nem baseadas em fatos. Duas vezes, Paulo aponta o quão anômalo esse tipo de resposta era. Antes de começar, ele avisa que está falando como um incauto. E quando ele começa, vai direto no ponto e afirma que só loucos falam do jeito que ele está falando. Há um aviso muito claro aí para pisar leve quando se trata desse assunto. 

Uma outra razão sem dúvida deve-se ao fato de ser praticamente impossível falar dessa minha experiência no “deserto” sem estabelecer um elo com as pessoas que me fizeram chegar até lá. Mesmo que eu me esforçasse ao máximo para ser objetivo, as pessoas ainda tentariam fazer conexões com indivíduos que fizeram parte de certas decisões recentes da minha vida. Nesse pequeno universo onde eu vivo, seria muito fácil para alguém sair de caçada às “bruxas”. Muito cuidado: Até os seus bem intencionados lamentos podem acabar servindo de libelo contra pessoas que você intencionalmente jamais desejaria prejudicar. No final, suas palavras correm o risco de virar munição que podem dar origem à meia-verdades e especulações. Tô fora.

Isso de maneira nenhuma indica que a dor seja impessoal ou irreal. Pelo contrário, ela é dor de fato e é extremamente pessoal, mas justamente por essa razão é que, ao tentarmos descreve-la, temos que reconhecer que o fazemos com os nossos próprios óculos de 3-D nos olhos. Nós, humanos, não apenas reagimos às nossas experiências. Nós as interpretamos, a elas atribuímos valores e com frequência distribuímos culpa. Já basta que eu faça isso dentro da minha própria cabeça (santo mesmo eu não sou, podem crer!) Portanto, vou poupa-los de uma demonstração feia da minha própria carnalidade e não vou detonar os meus delatores. 

Por falar em carnalidade, esse negócio de “compartilhar o meu sofrimento”, quando feito sem pensar, pode resultar em que se exponha os podres dos outros. E é isso que muita gente gosta, não é mesmo? Como estamos rodeados de gente que quer ver roupa suja pendurada! Já fui tentado, mas fico perguntando: o que isso provaria, além do fato que talvez eu seja um néscio graúdo que não consegue sequer superar uma ofensa? Isso, claro, não quer dizer que me falta material para trazer à tona os podres dos outros. A minha “geladeira” está cheia desse troço. Os eventos que culminaram com a minha saída do emprego estão rodeados de intrigas capazes de manter a “geladeira” estocada por meses, mas quem ganharia com isso? É carne podre e de carne podre só os abutres gostam. 

Então, de minha boca não sairá podridão. Mas isso não significa que não possa dar uma de louco, assim como Paulo fez. Só pra alegrar o meu amigo que comigo esteve na fossa, aqui vai não o podre dos outros mas um pouco do vinagre com fel (de qualidade bem melhor do que o que deram pra Jesus) que a mim me foi dado beber. 

Como parte do nosso sofrimento, minha esposa e eu temos chorado a miúdo, tal qual não chorávamos desde a morte do nosso primeiro filho varão. Nos primeiros dois meses depois da dispensa, nem sequer sabíamos o que fazer com a nossa vida. Fins de semana eram especialmente difíceis. Dormir, nem pensar, e aquela adrenalina da antecipação do domingo ficou me assaltando como um algoz. Só para dar uma idéia, em mais de vinte e cinco anos, foi a primeira vez em que eu não estive envolvido com o planejamento ou pregação em um culto da Páscoa. Que maneira mais irônica de marcar a passagem dos sofrimentos do Messias. A ressurreição não poderia ter chegado mais rápido! Quanto à minha querida esposa, até hoje ela continua tendo um pesadelo no qual ela está tentando entrar na igreja por diversas portas e é barrada em todas, uma por uma. E não vou nem falar do quanto ela sente falta das crianças de quem ela cuidava enquanto as mães se reuniam para um estudo bíblico no prédio da igreja. Poderia continuar, mas chega. Já estou falando como um louco mesmo. 

Seres humanos não somente tem fraqueza por interpretar suas experiências, eles também têm uma tendência de adaptar-se a elas. Se você viver bastante tempo, chegará o dia em que rirá de seus problemas e se dará de conta do quão efêmeros eles são. Aqui nesse mundo só estamos de passagem. O melhor ainda está por vir. Esforce-se em não culpar ninguém por como você reage, interpreta e absorve os seus sofrimentos. Indivíduos ou grupos deles podem temporariamente nos tirar dos trilhos, mas eles não têm o poder de descarrilhar-nos. Isso só Deus pode fazer mas não faz parte do jogo dEle. Ao contrário, Ele usa os nossos grunhidos para nos tornar mais aguerridos. Às vezes o melhor crescimento é acompanhado de torcimento. Dói mas não destrói. Mói mas não mata. Pode crer.

Não poderia fechar esse comentário sem mencionar o exemplo do nosso Mestre. Pedro diz sobre Ele: “Quando insultado, não revidava; quando sofria, não fazia ameaças, mas entregava-se àquele que julga com justiça.” (1 Pedro 2:23). Mais claro não poderia ser. Jesus não procurou retaliar. E por que não? Porque Ele sabia que Deus iria resolver o problema e que o faria com absoluta e perfeita justiça. Ainda está pra se criar uma razão melhor que essa para evitar qualquer retaliação. É um detente perfeito para o péssimo hábito que temos de anunciar em alto e bom som o menu dos nossos sofrimentos às mãos dos nossos semelhantes. Perdoe e deixe que Deus faça o resto. Se você tentar resolver o assunto você mesmo, vai certamente fazer serviço de amador. Como a gente diz em português: “Aprenda a ficar no seu lugar.” Tradução (em qualquer língua): pratique a humildade. E continue trabalhando pela shalom de Deus. 

Pastor Ivanildo C. Trindade

Junho, 2017

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In 1 Timothy 4:2 Paul makes a disturbing statement in connection with a set of instructions to Timothy, his disciple: “… by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron.” The previous verse warns that in the “later times” (code words for the times we are living in now, the Church age), some would fall away from the faith in order to follow “deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.”

Wow, you may say, “how’s this possible?” These are not pagans following pagan ways, which would not be a surprise. He is referring to people who were at some point and in some fashion identified with the faith. Shocking.

Well, the answer is that someone did a number with their conscience. I call these “conscience surgeons.” Most translations, like the NASB here, use the word “sear” to express Paul’s thought. Paul is using a medical term. “Cauterize” would be a more literal translation, as the DBT has it. 

Merriam Webster defines cauterize as “to burn (something, such as a wound) with heat or a chemical substance in order to destroy infected tissue.” The procedure renders the area insensible, thus the words “deaden” or “numb” would also be appropriate. In other words, the reason these folks have abandoned the faith, Paul says, is that they have allowed some “doctors” to operate on their consciences, rendering them incapable of triggering the mechanism that differentiated right from wrong. Deaden and deadly.

So who are these conscience “surgeons”? Here are my top three candidates (there are many more):

Highly educated Psychologists. These are people with letters after their name who insist that we ought to do away with artificial moral constructs. One of them, a Dr. Doris Jeanette, for example, claims, “There is no right or wrong, only experiences to learn from. So get out there and enjoy learning and living and growing. Toss guilt out. Trust yourself and love yourself.”

Makes me want to ask, “But if there is no right and wrong, why should I listen to what you have to say about it? Or maybe you mean to say ‘there is no right or wrong, but I beg you to make an exception by believing that what I am saying about right and wrong is right.'” Total non-sense, and yet, like a surgeon’s sharp knife, it has been used countless times to cauterize the conscience of our people and especially our youth.

Highly psychologized educators. Though there are many great people in our public schools, some try to use subtle psychology to serve the universalist soup to the mind of our unsuspecting little ones. 

When one of my daughters was 5, she heard her teacher say in school that “every religion leads to the same God.” This was a time when several Muslim families were part of our lives and my daughter had befriended a girl her age who was from Egypt. So my daughter told me what the teacher had said and asked me this question, “Dad, Aisha believes Muhammad is the way to God and we believe Jesus is the way to God. How can we both be right?” 

Without knowing it, at age 5, my daughter was articulating the law of non-contradiction, which in essence says that if A is true, the opposite of A cannot be true at the same time. She proved to have a greater understanding about religion than her teacher did, but not everyone has the courage to contradict what is said by someone who is an authority figure and is supposed to know better. The best conscience surgeons are the ones who don’t even consider themselves to be one.

The last group of “surgeons” I want to mention is highly sensitive preachers. I could dedicate many blog entries just to this topic, but let me just say that sometimes the would be purveyors of truth are the most skilled surgeons when the subject is conscience cauterization. Preachers who love money and position more than truth. Bible expositors who fear the ire and isolation of the majority. Wolves in sheep’s clothing, the pulpits are filled with them. Don’t get on their operating tables. Run from their presence. Flee their anemic pronouncements that carry no authority. Don’t be afraid to challenge the authority of pseudo-truth tellers.

Finally, I find it amazing that when it comes to surgeries on our bodies, we go to great lengths to find the best physician. We find out where he/she graduated from; we read reviews online, we talk to his/her peers and try to find others who may have had the same procedure under the care of that doctor. But then in matters of conscience, the very thing that gives us a moral compass to live by, we are willing to go under by the hands of just about anyone who pretends to know more than we do. Time to reverse course. We will find out how when we study Psalm 32 this Sunday and understand what God has to say about guilt. 

Hope you can join us!
Pastor Ivanildo da Costa Trindade 
Lead Pastor, Grace Church, Lititz, PA

Religious people tend to want others to tell them what to do. They prefer not to engage in the rigorous process of wrestling with conflicting ideas in order to arrive at a conclusion that makes sense. We want everything in black and white; no grey, no exceptions.

But life is sometimes more nuanced than that. In Matthew 18, Jesus was teaching a four-part series on forgiveness when Peter raised his hand: “How many times should I forgive my brother when he sins against me?”

Peter wanted Jesus to issue a simple ruling, a universal law that applied to every situation with no exception. Once Jesus gave him that precise number, he would know exactly where he stood with regard to all the people who had sinned against him. “Okay, Andrew, this is your sixth time!” Can you hear Peter saying that to his brother?

To help matters, Peter even suggested a number: “Up to seven times?” He thought he was being extremely magnanimous since the Rabbis only required up to three times. Jesus Himself had hinted at the number seven earlier, though he was referring to up to seven times in ONE day. As soon as Peter rolled out the number 7, I imagine him looking around to see the reaction on the other disciples’ faces, confirming what he thought in his mind about himself: “He is a jolly good fellow!”

But Jesus wasn’t impressed. He said, “Not seven, seventy times seven” (or seventy seven, depending on which manuscript tradition you adopt). Either way, the point Jesus was making was: “Forgiveness ought to be offered as often as the offender asks for it.”

The Rabbis said, “Three strikes and he’s out.” Peter said, “Seven strikes and he’s out.” Jesus said, “He’s never out and you are never justified not to forgive.” And that is the point of this passage.

Anticipating objections, Jesus goes on to tell the story of the unmerciful servant. There is a scoundrel in that story, namely, the guy who was forgiven a debt of millions who then turns around and refuses to forgive a debt of only hundreds. If you came across that fellow, you would want to strangle him. Okay, maybe you would just want to call him a jerk.

Right. Now get this: Every time we act in an unforgiving manner, we are like the jerk in the story. Why? Because the debt we owe God is so ridiculously gigantic that it makes the debt others owe us like peanuts in comparison. So my obligation to forgive others should not be in proportion to the offense they brought me but in proportion to the offense I brought God.

And that is why no number in the mathematical universe is big enough to put a cap on the times I ought to forgive those who offend me. My offense against God would have landed me in hell, but His forgiveness in Christ changed my zip code in the afterlife. How dare I not forgive others?

Pastor Ivanildo C. Trindade

Lead Pastor, Grace Church, Lititz, PA