Archives for posts with tag: grace

Last week we started a new series at Grace titled “Taking Inventory.” This Sunday we will continue it by looking at how Paul dealt with a group of people who needed to strengthen their grip on generosity.

Those who are close to me know that I have never been into the whole New Year’s resolutions thing. I’m not saying it’s a bad idea, just that I have never been a practitioner. The grind for me has to be daily, purposeful, 24 hours at a time, one building block after another.

Now, before you jump to conclusions, let me say that I am also a big planner and like the rest of you I get frustrated when a goal goes unrealized or the grind grinds endlessly.

In 2 Corinthians 8 Paul dealt with a group of people who started a project with a bang but were on the verge of ending it with a big yawn. The project had to do with the noble task of collecting offerings for the saints in Jerusalem who for various reasons had been impoverished within a few years after the birth of the Church.

Paul made an impassioned plea for the Gentile believers to step up to the plate and help alleviate the abject needs of God’s people in Jerusalem. The church in Corinth immediately jumped onto the band wagon, but now it’s been a year, they were immersed in never ending controversies, and the project was languishing. So what do you do when the people lose the early enthusiasm for generosity in the work of God?

First, you don’t dictate. Paul is so skillful in saying he is not commanding the people to give, even if he is strongly encouraging them to do so. Generosity cannot be ordered. If it’s not voluntary, it’s not acceptable by God.

Secondly, you give perspective. Paul said he used the example of the Corinthians’ early enthusiasm to encourage other Gentile Christians to do the same and now that those other Gentiles had excelled in their gift, he was concerned that if the Corinthians didn’t finish their project, he (and especially they) would be terribly ashamed of the situation.

Thirdly, you draw the big picture. In other words, you go to the bottom line, the first cause, the raison d’être. And so we have it: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9.

I can’t read these words without crying. Generosity is rooted in, motivated by, and delivered through the incarnation of Christ, His death on the cross and the resurrection that took place on the third day. God’s divestiture of His Son is the only reason I need to lavish generosity on others. I can’t even be saved if I don’t get the impact of this amazing truth.

So make this the year of generosity and finish the work of grace which God has already started in you by focusing more on others than on yourself in 2017.

Pastor Ivanildo da Costa Trindade

Lead Pastor, Grace Church, Lititz, PA

Advertisements

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

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