Archives for posts with tag: Songs in the Night

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“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.”

John Newton wrote the words to this song when he was 70, standing, as it were, at the pinnacle of what had been a life full of “dangers, toils and snares.” As he looked back, one thing remained first and foremost in his life – the undeserved gift of forgiveness and salvation that God had bestowed upon him.

He wrote those beloved words as an illustration to a sermon he preached on January 1, 1773. The text was 1 Chronicles 17:16-17. In this passage, the ark of the Covenant is being brought back to Jerusalem and David is lamenting the fact that the Ark, that symbol of God presence among His people, is in a tent and he is in a palace of cedar. He promises God that he is going to build a house for Him and God says, “No, I am going to build a ‘house’ for you.”

What God did was promise David a dynasty, starting with Solomon, and culminating with the Messiah. David would never lack an heir sitting on the throne.

David was floored. He immediately recognized how undeserving he was of this gift. He remembered his humble family and his inauspicious choice to become King, coming from behind, as it were. True. He was so far behind that his father didn’t even bother to bring him back from the field when he paraded his tanned, strong, and handsome sons for the prophet to spot the one who would soon lead them. Samuel had to look deep in the bench to find David.

Before his conversion Newton was the worst character you would ever hope not to meet. Foul-mouthed, impervious to authority, angry, and just about failing at everything his father had him do. Even the hardened sailors couldn’t stand him. He was a cut below the rest, so to speak. As a child, Newton had some Christian teaching from his mother, but she died when he was only a child and he went on to reject God and malign anyone who claimed to believe in Him. Newton was a rotten character and that is why he used the word “wretch” to describe himself.

God reminded David in that passage: “I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, to be leader over My people Israel.” (1 Chronicles 17:7). Newton asked the question: “Where were you when the Lord found you?” The answer for him is found in the words of the song: “I was a wretch. Amazing grace that saved a wretch like me!”

When he realized what God was promising him, David was so overwhelmed, he sat down before the presence of the Lord and said, “Who am I, O LORD God, and what is my house that You have brought me thus far?” (1 Chronicles 17:16). Newton reflects on this and says that if that is how he was like before he came to Christ, how then did he get to where he is now? Again, the answer: Just like David, it is grace that brought me thus far.

We know that it was snowing on the day Newton wrote this song. As he looked from his study across the field to the church where he served for sixteen years, we can imagine his puzzlement as to how he was going to finish the song. So he penned the famous words, “When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun…” No, he didn’t. This verse was not written by Newton and thus it was not part of the original song. In fact, only a cursory look will tell you that it doesn’t belong to the style and force of the rest of the song. Instead, Newton wrote: “The earth shall soon dissolve like snow/The sun forbear to shine/But God, who call’d me here below/Will be forever mine.” Newton knew what he was talking about. Eight times in 1 Chronicles 17 that word “forever” appears in reference to God’s everlasting Kingdom. Newton knew that God’s plan for mankind was permanent and that it included him.

March 21 marked the day when John Newton began to experience a storm at sea that would force him to cry out to God for help. He observed that day for the rest of his life (“the hour I first believed”), a time to give thanks to God and reflect on where he was when God met Him. That was the hour he first believed. And he savored it every year. The sound that heralded his salvation would forever remain with him – that sweet sound of grace which is nothing short of amazing. I hope you can savor it too, every day for sure, but once a year, on a special day, when you remember how God saved you.

I have also written a separate piece to illustrate the practical side of this amazing grace. I did it because I am afraid many of us have forgotten what grace really means. We are glad to receive grace at that hour we first believed, but once we get it, it is so hard to remember that we too are supposed to bestow grace – that unmerited gift – to those around us who need it.

Here is a radically different perspective. How many times have you been to a restaurant and received some really poor service? Well, when it comes time to tip, you may give a 10% tip instead of 20%. Listen, I am all in favor of excellent service, especially the services we are paying for, but do you even consider the reason someone may be so unhappy at work? And are we missing an opportunity to bestow upon someone a gift that is patently undeserved?

Let me remind you, though in a capitalistic sense tipping has everything to do with merit and retribution, in a Kingdom sense nothing could be more untrue. The word “gratuity,” a synonym for “tip” comes from the same word we get the word “grace.” You see the connection now? So next time, give somebody something they don’t deserve and you will begin to look at the transaction that took place when God saved you.

The same is true of the humanitarian crisis that is happening on our border. Everyone is quick to politicize the issue while forgetting about the plight of children who are here alone and whose stories deserve at least to be heard. I put together a guide that will be in your bulletin on Sunday. It will help you pray for some of the children who are in crisis today. We will pray for them in our services this Sunday. While we recognize that ultimate solutions will not be easy, can we at least agree that these children should be loved and tenderly cared for just because they are human beings at risk? Yes, it may not make sense and they may not even deserve it, but isn’t that true about my salvation as well?

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

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Injustice. A three-syllable word that has evoked more outrage in people of good will than any other word in our vocabulary. I can’t stand to see it. The Scriptures tell us to denounce it, especially when it comes to injustice against the most vulnerable among us – the widows, the orphans, the aliens, using biblical terminology.

Just today I read that the butchers of Nigeria, the so-called “Boko Haram” thugs, targeted and killed 44 people in the northern part of the country. This terrorist group has killed over 2,000 people in six months, and in their recent raids, they also kidnapped women and children and burned down three churches in their effort to rid the region of religious people other than Muslims.

How can you not be angry at these indiscriminate acts of killing? How can you not protest?

Here at home, a violence of a different sort is brewing. Thousands of children have crossed the border illegally over the last six months and no one seems to know what to do with them. Citizen groups, often led by their own politicians, have organized to prevent children from being brought to temporary housing in their cities and towns. We want to see them deported, the sooner the better. There is talk of diseases, burdens on local school districts, crime, etc., etc.

But very few are speaking on behalf of the children. Who is telling their story? I found one sympathetic voice this week but the majority of people are protesting loudly: “My tax money is paying for this!” “They are bringing deadly diseases!” “How do you know they haven’t committed crimes back in their home countries?”

Now I don’t deny that these issues are complicated and there are no easy solutions. I sympathize with those who have concerns and there is no question that some nefarious elements are operating behind the scene, but how can we not sympathize with the plight of children, some as young as 7 years old? Can we at least for a moment rise above our fears and focus on the tragedies of others?

This Sunday I will talking about the life of a woman who suffered a terrible personal injustice when she was only six weeks old. Fannie J. Crosby, through a medical mistake, lost her vision when she was only a baby. As she grew up and learned of what had happened, she could have turned bitter toward the man whose mistake was the cause of her fate, but instead, she learned to quietly accept her lot and allow God to use her the way she was. She said, “In more than eighty-five years, I have not for a moment felt a spark of resentment against him, for I have always believed from my youth up that the good Lord, in His infinite mercy, by this means consecrated me to the work that I am still permitted to do.”

Fannie J. Crosby went on to write poetry and lyrics of hymns that have been a tremendous blessing and a source of comfort to so many throughout the ages. If Fannie were living today, she would probably be walking among those children who are stuck in no-man’s land right now. She gave a great deal of her time and talent to the “least of these,” the homeless and mentally ill in NYC, and she loved every moment of it. I hope you will join us this Sunday as we look at one of my favorite hymns of all time, “A Wonderful Savior is Jesus My Lord.”

Pastor Ivanildo C. Trindade

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I write this less than two hours before Brazil’s game against Germany in the World Cup. In a matter of hours someone will go home (in Brazil’s case, stay home but out of the competition). In less than a week a new champion will be crowned (the reigning champs, Spain, bid farewell while still in the group phase). Four years from now, when the football greats gather in Russia, no one will remember who the semi-finalists were. Most people will only remember the winners, if that.

Such is the world we live in. We care about the heroics of the last one standing but the efforts of the vanquished, we conveniently ignore. In fact, the very word “hero” often only refers to those who got first place. Silver and bronze are not good enough, even if that puts you among the top three athletes in the world. And no one wants a dead hero.

But the Bible presents an entirely different picture. Believe it or not, there are heroes in the Bible who never came in first. If fact, some were cheated and even forcibly removed from the “competition.” Some heroes of Scripture never got to experience what they were hoping for. They were not delivered miraculously. They didn’t draw strength from afar. Their knight with shinning armor never arrived.

When I compare my life with the life of those heroes, I am forced to do like Job, who, after hearing a barrage of questions from God, humbly declared that from now on he would keep his mouth shut.

Hebrews 11 gives us a whole gallery of the heroes of faith, beginning with Abraham all the way to David and Samuel. Their exploits are listed with military precision. A celebratory tone ensues. We are inspired. Then we come to the middle of verse 35 and the little word “others” makes its appearance. Who are the “others,” I ask? They are other heroes, of course. But their stories couldn’t be more radically different, as the author tells us:

“… others were tortured, not accepting their release, so that they might obtain a better resurrection; and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground.” (Hebrews 11:35-38).

To make sure that we don’t miss the point, he goes on to say, “And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised…” (Hebrews 11:39).

Annie Flint Johnson was one of those “of whom the world was not worthy.” She was orphaned four times (two times from her biological parents, two from her adopted ones). Her dreams of becoming a concert pianist were shattered when she learned that she had a form of arthritis that would incapacitate her for the rest of her life. She was eventually unable to walk, bedridden for most of her 66 years here on earth, and when she died her body shrank to only about four feet. But in my book, she was a giant of the faith.

She tried and tried to attain healing from her condition until she came to the conclusion that God somehow wished to bring glory to His name through her. From then on she was willing to embrace her suffering and turn it into a testimony to God’s grace and love. The song we will be starting this Sunday explains her conviction:

He Giveth More Grace

He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater,

He sendeth more strength when the labors increase;

To added affliction He addeth His mercy,

To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.

 

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,

When our strength has failed ere the day is half done,

When we reach the end of our hoarded resources,

Our Father’s full giving is only begun.

 

His love has no limit, His grace has no measure;

His power no boundary known unto men;

For out of His infinite riches in Jesus

He giveth and giveth and giveth again.

Annie Flint Johnson went on to become one of the most prolific poets of the 19th and early 20th Century, writing some of the deepest and most enduring words of comfort will find anywhere. Her life stands as a testimony that God can turn any tragedy into joy.

I hope you will join us this Sunday and learn about the life and poetry of this remarkable woman who has inspired millions through the years. I hope you will be motivated to transcend your own trials and turn them into triumphs.

Pastor Ivanildo C. Trindade

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I don’t have to be convinced about the value of contemporary music to speak to the hearts of a new generation. I don’t need to get all worked up about those who might be accustomed to getting their music the same way they get a cheeseburger at a McDonald’s drive-through – fast and furious.  I totally get it that church is not about me and my tastes since we are here to reach those who are still outside the Kingdom.

But I still miss the old hymns of faith. I miss singing them. I miss reading their lyrics and thinking about the people who wrote them. I even miss opening the old rugged hymnal and smelling the scent of the ages as I flipped the pages to find the right hymn. And I miss harmonizing in church!

I grew up with hymns. For a while, that was all we sang in church. Over time, we memorized many of them and had our favorites. At home, my mom sang them all the time. Eventually, all my brothers and sisters – there are nine in my family – would learn them and sing them acapella as we gathered around the dinner table at our home in northern Brazil.

The major evangelical groups had their own hymnals. The Baptists had their “Christian Hymnal,” which we used – how many times growing up did I hear ‘We are like the Baptists’? Our church eventually compiled their own selection, calling it “The Little Christian Hymnal.” (Yes, the Grace Brethren have had a history of thinking small, sad to say…).The Assemblies of God had their “Christian Harp.” I once met a taxi driver who had “deviated” from the faith, as they like to say, and as I shared Christ with him, he began to feel remorse that he was no longer following Christ. He claimed he had memorized all 524 hymns in the “Christian Harp,” a point of pride, and without ceremony began to announce the number and  sing the songs as loud as he possibly could. At that point, I was just glad I was close to my destination…

Songs are the universal language of mankind. They are the like tutors, but they cost nothing and are at the tip of the tongue. Movie makers know this. Kids as young as two will watch “Frozen” once and the next day they are repeating the songs they heard in the movie. The political forces behind the genocide in Rwanda also know this. It was the cleverly put together jingles, broadcast on every street corner in the major cities through makeshift speakers mounted on top of cars, that carried the message of hate that eventually led to the slaughter of 800,000 people in a matter of days.

But songs, especially hymns, can also inspire. They can comfort and motivate. They have lifted people out of the darkness they found themselves in. They are companions to grieving hearts and at many a time function like the shepherd’s staff – steering the errant sheep into the direction of the fold. And hymns do that because their words, not only the melodies, have deep theological meaning based on sound Biblical teaching.

We will be spending several weeks looking at the history and theology of some well-known hymns of the faith in a new series we are calling “Songs in the Night – Transcending Turmoil,” starting this Sunday with the story of a man who found himself alone in the high seas, contemplating the magnitude of his losses and was willing to say “It is well with my soul.” You will be inspired!

Pastor Ivanildo C. Trindade