Archives for posts with tag: grace church lititz

The last couple of days have brought a flood of emotions to the surface in our already fragile repertoire of feelings. The events in Minnesota, Louisiana and now Texas have made us fearful again. We have been led to ask ourselves, some of us perhaps for the first time: “What is wrong with America?”

As one was not born in this country, I don’t have the luxury of reminiscing about the “glorious old days.” Neither can I join the chorus of those who decry the excesses of the old days. While many were experimenting with drugs and the sexual liberation of the 60’s, my parents were just trying to survive raising 9 children in the northern part of Brazil. I missed the 60’s altogether, except for the ballads a group from Liverpool brought to our Philco radios.

I missed the Civil Rights days but fell in love with MLK from a distance. I missed JFK but loved the food supplements his administration provided to my school through a program called “Alliance for Progress.” I missed the Vietnam War but years later would, with my wife, watch endless reruns and of M.A.S.H., thinking initially it was about Vietnam. M.A.S.H. and Ms. Ruth were my wife’s only English teachers when we first came to the U.S. In the early 80’s.

I grew up under a brutal military regime for 20 years. Congress was closed in 1964. Artists, students and teachers with left leaning views were haunted down, thrown in jail, tortured and killed. Many simply “vanished” with no trace, no closure, no accountability to this day. The lucky ones escaped to England, France, Portugal, even Russia. I was too young to fully appreciate the nefarious effects of those years.

The 70’s saw the so-called “Brazilian miracle,” an economic boom that later we would realize was only a boom to a few military officers and some clever politicians. I attended university during those years of political turmoil, my campus becoming a recruiting center for the communist party. I learned to despise communism and never fell for the propaganda that turned Fidel Castro into some kind of a hero. To me, he and Che Guevara were just another type of despots. I still believe that to this day.

The 80’s saw complete economic chaos: 3000% inflation per year. Shortages, looting, mass unemployment. But we also saw some political opening for the first time in my lifetime. I got to vote in a general election for the first time in 1986. We finally had a full and universal suffrage and the military were not in control.

The 90’s came roaring in with troubles. I secured a job teaching at my alma mater and was trying to support a family of 4. On my way to school, it was not unusual to see from the window of my bus a little corpse of a baby abandoned by a mother or a full size body of someone who had been killed execution style, the body still fuming from the burning that accompanied the killing. After seeing these things, I couldn’t sleep for days. I just didn’t understand how people could place so little value upon a life made by the Creator and imbued with all the innate qualities of personhood. And worse yet, I could never quite get why the people saw these tragedies as a type of entertainment. The bus driver would stop, people would get out, cross the street and parade in front of the dead, then they would take their seats on the bus, couples would kiss, others would talk about the final exam they were about to take and someone would make a cruel joke about an over cooked barbecue. The whole scene was surreal, insane.

And now, after many years of sojourning in this land, life has come full circle. I believe what we are doing to each other in the U.S. now is a prelude to the total disintegration of our entire way of life and unless we put a stop to it, we will fall like the other nations before us who put ideology before personhood, feelings before morality, man before God.

Our problem is not primarily racial. Our fight is not class warfare. The root of our problem is a lack of regard for human life. When life is reduced to chemicals dancing together in a primordial soup, it shouldn’t surprise us that there are elements in our society who believe they have the right to eliminate certain elements of our fabric they deem “undesirable.” In fact, we are already doing that when we have enshrined in our law books a provision that allows people to eliminate the most vulnerable among us — babies in their mothers’ wombs — at will, up to a certain time. This is one of the consequences of an ideology that says that man comes from apes.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that every evolutionist is a potential criminal, but I am saying that a society that is over exposed to a philosophy that attributes no transcendental value to life, no inherent dignity for being image bearers of the Divine, this society will eventually regress to acting according to the principal tenets of that philosophy, whether that’s a conscious act or not. Releasing a huge metal ball from atop a high mountain will always result in a movement downward, first slowly, then in a colossal crash no one can avoid.

Obviously, some elements of conservatism in our society contribute to this decadence as well. Many Christians, instead of acting compassionately as their Lord would, when they see the evils in our society, add fuel to the fire. They spew hateful words, plastered all over social media or uttered under their breath in dinners and gatherings with their friends. They consider themselves so much more superior to those immoral people of the left that I doubt they would have the courage of a G. K. Chesterton, who in response to an editorial in a British newspaper asking “what’s wrong with the world?” said, “Yours truly. I am what’s wrong with the world.” Churches and Christians need to wake up to the fact that many of them are not much different from the world. They need to lead by example, living an orderly life above reproach, loving one another and caring for the poor and those without voice in our world. God is calling us to repentance and righteous living that will result in truly living as salt and light in a society that needs Christ more than ever. But it is not through hatred and mere condemnation that this work will be accomplished. We need to look inside ourselves first and clean house before we can help heal the world outside.

Grace Church is a “house of prayer for all nations.” We have black, white, yellow, olive and all the colors in between. We have Americans, Brazilians, Haitians, South Koreans, Colombians, etc. We welcome everyone.

No one in our congregation will be untouched by the events of this week. Few, if any, will have no opinions on these tragic deaths. We are entitled to our own opinions but we owe each other love and respect, even when we disagree.

But remember that we are a unique group. We are the “called out ones” — out of the world, into His marvelous light. We belong to the family of God. Jesus calls us brothers. We are co-heirs with Him of the riches God has in store for us. We have the same Spirit. We are headed together to the New Jerusalem. Our citizenship is in heaven, where there will be no class distinction, no need for passports, no border control. We are all passing through and if we really get it, we will be the first to say that we are here on urgent business for our King.

When we see each other in church this Sunday, let me encourage you to seek three people you normally don’t speak to and do the following:

Smile.

Offer words of encouragement (“I am glad to see you here this morning.” “I’m so happy to be a part of the family of God.” “You are a blessing to God’s family here.”). If you don’t know the person and are not sure if they are saved, please introduce yourself and welcome them warmly.

Offer a hug, a warm handshake, a tap on the shoulder, when appropriate.

Kneel down to greet children and tell them how glad you are that they are in God’s house. Ask them when their Birthday is. Tell them Jesus loves them.

If they are believers, take a moment to pray together for our nation and especially for the families and friends of those who lost their lives.

Ask them if there is anything you can do to serve them.

Commit to praying for each other during this difficult time in the life of our nation.

I look forward to seeing you in God’s house on Sunday as we take time to honor the One who gives us life and life abundant.

We have a living hope!

“But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.” (Ephesians 2:13-16).

Pastor Ivanildo da Costa Trindade

Lead Pastor, Grace Church, Lititz, PA

I am not going to lie to you: I was somewhat of a troublemaker as a youngster. At least that is what I was led to believe. No, I never did drugs of any type nor did I ever engage in any other illicit activity, like going to services at a different church to check out the girls, for example, though that was a perennial temptation. My problems all originated from my default nature to test the limits of everything. That’s what caused the ire of my mother on a daily basis.

So you could say I got disciplined a lot. Or spanked. Or whacked. I don’t care what word you use. I needed it and today I am glad (most of the time) that my mother was up to the task.

But I have to confess I never quite understood what she meant when she said, “I’m doing this because I love you!” Really? I wasn’t buying it. What would she do if she hated me?

But now I have children of my own and I understand. The author of Hebrews said it best: “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:11). But back then there was no way I could possibly have understood that a) God disciplines only those He loves; b) God disciplines only those who are legitimately His children; c) Discipline is not meant to be fun but trying; d) Discipline, like Bible reading and prayer, is a tool to train us to be better Christians; e) The goal of discipline is to make us share in God’s holiness. This is all there in Hebrews 12:5-11. I encourage you to read it.

This Sunday we will be considering God’s rebuke of David through the prophet Nathan in 2 Samuel 12 and You will be forced to agree with me: David was whacked. He was hit upside the head not by the prophet’s hand but by his own self-proclaimed standards of moral purity.

After hearing about a story where an outrageous act of injustice had been committed against a poor man, David was filled with rage and wanted to throw the book at the perpetrator. But Nathan, without flinching, pointed to David and said, “You are that man!” David realized then that he had sinned against God. What is more, He realized that he was not able to abide even by the small confined space of his own standard of righteousness. So as a child loved by God he had to pay and pay he did.

The punishment would be harsh. The consequences would last for generations. The trail of tears would follow the king and his family as long as they lived. But in the end, God could still call David “a man after my own heart.” Hard to imagine that ever taking place without the 2X4 finding its way to his royal head on that day when he heard a not so ambitious story about a rich man who stole a sheep from a poor peasant.

May we not need the 2X4 treatment. But if we do, may we not reject God on account of it “because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” (Hebrews 12:6).

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

Around the Word smallJesus said, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” You cannot follow Jesus by touching a remote control and you cannot make disciples (“fishing men”) by simply keeping a chair warm in a building on Sunday morning. You gotta have skin in the game.

Many parents lament the exodus of their children from church after they finish High School (supposedly an average of 75% leave, if you believe the polls). They ask themselves, “What did I do wrong?” Some have to live with “parental regret” for the rest of their lives. “Friends” will rehearse unfortunate mistakes and spiritual leaders will quote verses like Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go and even when he is old he will not depart from it.”

There are different opinions about the interpretation of the above verse, which I will not go into here. But I will warn legalistic leaning well intentioned zealots: This is a proverb; it’s not a promise. It’s an aphorism — a quick summary of the way things are perceived to be or should be, a precious piece of wisdom which we should do well to follow. But it is not a blank check, a manual that gives you the key to success. It’s easy to demonstrate this even in the English language. For example, “The shoemaker’s children always go barefoot.” Not really.

The King of Israel whose life we will study this Sunday (2 Kings 21:19-26; 2 Chronicles 33:1-20) had an inauspicious start for his short life. He was the grandson of the godly king Hezekiah. But that was it. Every single one of his other ancestors, including his father Manasseh, the longest reigning king in southern Israel, were enemies of God. Amon had no good role model, apparently not even a friend close enough to care. In two years, he was gone, killed by his own people. What a sad little existence.

But let’s not take Amon off the hook too quickly. He was still responsible for his own actions. If he wanted a good example, he could have relied on the memory of how his father, who humbled himself before God and as a result of that, God heard his prayer and he was restored to his city and power. Amon failed to get off the warm chair. He liked the remote control too much. He had no skin in the game. His failure to engage God cost him his life. “He’s dead, Jim.”

Parents who have children who rebelled need to be reminded that even when they messed up (and everybody does), if they own up to their mistake and start doing the right thing, that’s all God requires of them. They don’t need to be slaves of their past mistakes anymore. You are ultimately not responsible for your adult sons’ and daughters’ choices. They need to have their own skin in the game. They must embrace their faith, not live from a memory of yours. It is their individual journey, not a caravan. The caravan comes later, when they decide to join in of their own volition.

I trust that you too are living the life of a follower who takes Jesus’ words to heart. The inexact nature of our times calls for a clear and decisive action indicating where you stand. There is no more time for neutrality. A world in anguish awaits for answers and the true answers can only be found in Christ. When will you drop the remote and hit the pavement for Jesus? When will you leave the comfort of your church seat and go where Jesus’ other friends live. Forget the inactivity or blind ministry spots on the part of those who came before you. Jesus is looking at YOU. What will YOU say?

Pastor Ivanildo da Costa Trindade

Lead Pastor, Grace Church, Lititz, PA

When I consider the infamy of the events associated with the crucifixion of Christ, at first glance, I find the crown of thorns to be the most innocuous, something akin to a P.S. in a letter. But is it really the case?

Most scholars agree that the thorns were not meant primarily as an instrument of torture. While there was pain associated with it, death by crucifixion by itself won the crown in that department.

So, if not pain, what? The answer is mockery. The soldiers were simply making sport of Jesus. Isaiah said that the Messiah was going to be “despised and rejected, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” Even in the smallest of details, Jesus fit the part.

In fact, there is quite a bit of taunting around His passion. From the people who dared Him to come down from the cross to the leading priests who said that He had saved others but could not save Himself. From the governor who suggested He should show a little more deference in front of the one who could free Him to the thief who sarcastically questioned Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah. Words like “mock,” “scoff,” “sneer,” etc. are littered throughout the resurrection narratives.

The crown of thorns, contrary to the cross, represents the subtlety of the human heart that is bent on mocking Christ but would not join the mob chanting “Crucify Him!” The cross is more blatant; the crown, more insidious.

Most of us are “bring out the crown” types before we become “bring out the cross” types. We harbor resistance in our hearts. We cover up the darkness that puts us at enmity with God by staying in the periphery. Sadly, many times, we have the type of skepticism that shakes our core and sometimes guides our conduct. We conjure up a mild form of resistance to Christ so we can cry out at the end: “I didn’t ask Him to be crucified!”

The soldiers mocked Jesus. Pilate mocked Jesus. Religious leaders mocked Jesus. Passersby mocked Jesus. And many people across this vast world still mock Jesus. And that’s why the crown was there, next to the cross, to remind us that not all rebels are made from the same cloth. Mockers are never created equal and Jesus’ crucifixion proves that.

As we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord, it is time for us to examine our hearts for any signs of “silent” rebellion against God, confess our sins, and embrace the resurrected Messiah. It would be appropriate for us to remind ourselves that one day He is coming to claim His legitimate crown as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. And this time, He is donning a judge’s toga.

Jesus is Risen!

Pastor Ivanildo C. Trindade
Lead Pastor, Grace Church, Lititz, PA

Acts 14 marks the first time followers of Christ encountered a wholly pagan audience. Gone were all the common threads with Judaism, including the synagogue, the Torah, and even more importantly, the very notion of monotheism (one true God only).

How does one relate to such a group of people? I feel that question is as relevant today as it was to Paul and Barnabas in AD 46 because we too must speak to people with whom we have little or nothing in common.

I have three modest suggestions:

  1. Put people ahead of doctrine.

When Paul and Barnabas realized that the people thought they were gods, they didn’t try to correct their beliefs right away. Though outraged and disgusted at the blasphemy, they found a point of contact with the people: “We too are human like you!” We need to learn to see people first and foremost for who they are — though fallen, still the crown of God’s creation, bearing His image and glory.

  1. Put God ahead of doctrine.

Sometimes it is appropriate to start with the fine points of theology, but for most people, it’s best to relate them to God first. “We are here to bring you good news so you can leave these worthless things behind and turn to the living God who made heaven and earth.” Before debating evolution, tell people about God’s power; before explaining the Trinity (not that we really can), point them to work of Christ on the cross and His subsequent resurrection. Don’t try to save anyone, tell people about the God who can save them.

  1. Put clarity ahead of doctrine.

Paul’s speech here is a jewel. No word from ancient prophets, no reference to the sacrificial system, no Messianic pronouncement. There would be time for that later on (I am not saying doctrine is NOT important!), but for now Paul went for clarity. He used language from agriculture and day-to-day stuff, like the notion of pleasure and happiness. He didn’t throw difficult religious concepts at this crowd. Though true, what he said was a far less complicated version of the gospel compared with what he had shared before with his Jewish audience. I mean, there can’t be anything more basic than saying, “The food you eat every day and the wine that makes you feel happy — they are gifts from the true God to you.”

Sometimes we tend to complicate things, don’t we? But I want to encourage you to think about these three simple rules when sharing Christ with others to our pluralistic audience of today: a) don’t come across as being superior; b) move the spotlight from you to God; c) check your “Christianese” out the door.

 

Questions to ponder:

  1. Considering Paul and Barnabas’ background as thoroughly monotheistic Jewish men, how significant is it that the first words out of their mouths were “we too are human just like you”?

2. Can you think of examples of things we say in church that an outsider would have no clue what the meaning is?

  1. When you look at Jesus’ example, He seems to have been generally tough on the religious leaders but gentle with those who were on the outside. What do you think this means to us?

 

Pastor Ivanildo C. Trindade
Lead Pastor, Grace Church, Lititz, PA

We’ve all heard the expression, “Pray for sunshine, prepare for rain.” At first glance this seems to be what might have happened with the believers in Acts 12 when they gathered in Mary’s house to pray for Peter’s release. Perhaps they were praying but didn’t really expect a positive outcome.

But something miraculous did actually happen and when Peter showed up at the house where they were meeting, having been released by an angel, everyone thought the girl who had seen him outside was insane.

Is that really what happened? Maybe. But maybe we’ve have been a little harsh on those early believers and here are some reasons that might be the case:

  1. The text does say that the believers were praying “earnestly for Peter” (12:5), but in 12:12 it simply says that “they were praying.” It is possible that by then their prayer had evolved from praying for Peter’s release to praying for themselves?

Consider this: it was now the eleventh hour, the night before Peter was supposed to be presented to the religious leaders. His death was imminent and the believers now had to think about their own fates. So they took the unusual step of locking their door. They knew they were next, they were exhausted, not knowing where to turn. Perhaps they were now praying primarily for wisdom on what to do next? Or for strength to endure to the end?

  1. The believers had good reasons to think that Peter may have already been executed. Herod Agrippa had inherited malevolent genes from his grandfather, Herod the Great. He had already passed James, John’s bother, through the sword. To please the religious leaders, he was going to kill Peter next.

When the servant kept insisting that Peter was at the door, some people said, “It is his angel.” There was a traditional belief that when a person died, his “angel” (guardian angel?”) paid a visit to his/her friends. This would be another indication that the believers may already have thought that Peter was dead.

Now it wouldn’t be the first time in history that believers prayed for something and were quite shocked that they actually got what they were praying for, but I am just not sure that this was one of those cases.

How about you?

Do your prayer requests evolve over time?

Do you think there is anything inherently wrong with praying against all hope?

Do you truly believe that “nothing is impossible with God?”

Do you remember a time when God miraculously granted a request that you and/other people were praying for?

And finally, what do you think is the meaning of Mark 9:24, when the father of a demon-possessed boy said, “I believe, help me with my unbelief”?

Pastor Ivanildo C. Trindade

Lead Pastor, Grace Church, Lititz, PA

Pivotal bulletin copy

Note: the following is an example of the devotionals I’m writing for our Pivotal series (a study of Acts). For more, please go here.

I have so many unanswered questions related to the Ananias and Sapphira story in Acts 5 but there is one thing that is certain about it–they died for conspiring together and lying to God.

I am also fairly certain that while Peter was completely aware of the fate awaiting Sapphira, he may have been as surprised as everyone else when Ananias fell dead in the middle of his speech.

There is a part of us that wants to cry “unfair” when we read this story. I’m not going to deny it: I feel sorry for this couple. The story doesn’t tell us how old they were or if they had any children. Luke doesn’t even care to mention the price of the piece of property they sold.

Not that it matters that much. In the end, their capital offense was to conspire to lie against God. Peter stated it a little differently to Sapphira. He said they put the Holy Spirit to the test. Maybe that gives us a clue. Could this couple be defying God? I mean, “Let’s see what kind of a god he is before we can truly believe,” type of defiance? Did they purposefully try to mock God? “These people think they know everything. Let’s fool them,” type of mockery?

You see what I am doing? I am still trying to find an offense that is bad enough to bring such swift and irreversible penalty to bear on these poor souls. Why? Because in my own subdued, defiant way, I refuse to accept that lying to God is a punishable offense, let alone a capital one. And there is more: every day there are Christians blatantly lying to God and they have yet to see the dirty feet of the grave diggers saying, “Next?” This seems to confirm that lying to God is not such a big deal. Or does it?

Recently, a famous website exposed the lies of so many people who sought to engage in marital infidelity without fear of being discovered. Well, thousands had their names revealed, including a handful of well known Christian leaders. They lied to their spouses, but they lied to God first. But they didn’t drop dead in front of their computers, though one evangelical leader tragically took his own life.

Children tell their parents they were doing homework at their friend’s house when they were out partying and engaging in illegal activities. Adults engage in online pornography while telling their spouses they are watching reruns of Friends. Our brave new world has given us all the tools we need to lie with impunity, or so we think.

So the question really is: “Why are we still alive?” Or even close to home: “Why am I alive?” And the answer may be simply related to the fact that we no longer have someone with the prophetic and apostolic authority of Peter to spot our sins!

But we should not make the mistake of thinking that our life extension here means that we somehow beat the system, for there will be a day of reckoning and we better be prepared for it. As Peter himself said in another place: “For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17)

May we also be overcome with a healthy sense of fear of God (Acts 5:5) as we consider how we are living today.

Questions to ponder:

1. Why do you think Luke singled out one sin (lying) to write about in this early stage of the history of the Church?

2. List the types of injuries that occur when people decide to lie blatantly about something they did.

3. What is the biblical solution for the habit of lying?

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