LOVE WITHOUT PROSELYTISM AND OTHER INTENTIONS

 

By Hermes C. Fernandes

GOD DID NOT SEND US INTO THE WORLD TO CONVERT IT, BUT TO LOVE IT. Conversion is God’s work, not ours. People who think that they can convert the world are living in presumption. Therefore, our love for the world must be completely without pretension; and it must give itself voluntarily without expecting any immediate results.
When we love people without expecting results, we aren’t disappointed when we’re not reciprocated. More, even ingratitude (on the part of those we love) won’t make us give up on loving. That’s because the ultimate goal of love is always the good of the one loved.

Anything that is done in the expectation of return is not love. It’s bargaining. And bargaining is contrary to the spirit of the gospel. Not all Christians know this. That’s why many churches and not-for-profits find themselves frustrated when their praiseworthy social projects don’t produce the results the organizers hoped for.
In my view, we need to take another look at our service paradigms and the motives that drive them.

To take advantage of the pain of others in order to advance our religious vision is not evangelism, but proselytizing or outright “welfare pimping.” Jesus had harsh words for the Pharisees who proselytized with bad motives. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves” (Mt. 23:15).

Our model of evangelism is still too much tied to the European colonialist vision and methodology. That is, our approach is contaminated by the presumption that we have something that others do not have. We are civilized, and “they” (whoever they are) are savages. We are Christians and they are heathen. We have Christ but they do not.

With this thinking we offer humanitarian aid as a bargaining chip, much like the Spanish and Portuguese colonists did with the Indians in the Americans when, to gain advantage over them, they offered the natives trinkets like mirrors and combs.

Of course we desire to share Christ with as many people as possible. However, before that, we must share our own souls in a completely unpretentious and non-controlling way. (Note how Paul gave his life to the Thessalonians, 1 Thessalonians 2:8.)
Because of the strong proselytism (or outright manipulation) of some churches and Christian institutions, the people they purport to “serve” soon catch on to the bait-and-switch game the organization plays and rightfully come to view the service organization with suspicion. In other words, they perceive the “game”: Our humanitarian works are bait that conceals a hook.
(Note: Jesus made Peter and Andrew fishers of men. However, the type of fishing they did employed nets, not fishing rods. They therefore had no use for bait.)

Think about it: Did Jesus multiply the loaves and fishes in order to proselytize? If he did, why didn’t he make an “evangelistic appeal” after feeding the multitude? Could it be that he fed the multitude simply because he loved them? And when the church in Jerusalem resolved to take care of the widows in the community and elected deacons to engage in this “important business,” they did so for love, pure and simple.

Some may object by saying: If we love people, we want to see them saved. (If they are sinners, of course we do!) But it doesn’t seem ethical to me to take advantage of a material or emotional need in order to present the gospel. That’s what politicians do when they offer voters goodies in exchange for their votes. Again, bargaining is not service motivated by love.

I want to propose here a different approach. Instead of assuming that we will take God to the people we aim to serve, we should embrace an approach that seeks God in them. Is there any biblical basis for this? Yes. Jesus taught the following: We will be judged on the Last Day for the good that we have done to him. That is, we will be judged for the food that that we fed him, for the clothes that we gave to cover his nakedness, for the visits we paid to him when he was in jail, and so forth. And when we ask when we did such things, he will answer: When you did these things to one of my little ones, you did to me. Our approach should therefore be to serve the needy—especially the Christian needy—as if we were serving Jesus, and to do so without thought of reward except on the Last Day. And our motive should be love.

Brethren, it is deceptive to think we will find Christ only in sumptuous cathedrals when, in fact, he is also often waiting for us under the bridges and in the slums of major urban centers, and in overcrowded jails, and in dumpsters, and in pockets of misery. Serving the poor in such locales has much more to offer us than we have to offer them! When we serve them with right motives, we just might receive a smile in return, or an embrace; and that smile or embrace will come from the One whom we truly serve.

And if we wish to convert the unsaved suffering to Christ we must first get off our religious pedestals and be “converted” to their service. And the kind of love that we should give them is the kind outlined by Paul when he wrote to the Corinthians, “And I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved” (2 Corinthians 12:15).

Don’t expect results! Instead, give love without the expectation of return. Give yourself—your whole self. Jesus said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it abides alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). Perhaps it is our failure to die to ourselves that explains our paltry fruit in the social works we undertake. The grain—us—has fallen on earth; but it has not died. So let us die to ourselves, and to our pretensions and presumptions. For only by so doing can we bear fruit.

When we love with less than a whole heart and pure motives, and when the returns are not what we hope for, we become frustrated and give up. But true love never gives up.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

About the difference between Mercy and Grace

“Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16

Grace and mercy seem like synonymous words, but they are not. Both can be found in the same place: on the throne of grace. However, if the throne belongs to grace, that is because grace is greater than mercy. But, to find grace, first we must obtain mercy. It’s like a protocol. To reach the King (grace), we must first talk to the Prime Minister (mercy).

Let me explain a little about mercy. The word in Latin is misericordis, which is the junction of two other words, misery (miseri) and heart (cordis). Having mercy is to receive someone into our heart, who have no resources. It is by mercy that God welcomes us into His presence, though we do not deserve it.

God is holy, but we are sinners. Holiness and sin are like oil and water, they do not mix.

The mother hosts her child in her womb for nine months and feel terrible pains to bring it to the world. That’s mercy. At first, the child is like a foreign body inside his mother. The mother’s body tries to reject it. But gradually, her body will be adjusting, and welcoming the little body that is forming.

Once born, she nurses him, takes care of him, educates him and gives him love. That is grace.

Her womb is a place of mercy. But his arms and bosom are places of grace. Can you see the difference?

Listen to what God says: “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.” Isaiah 49:15

He cannot forget us!

By mercy, He accept us in His presence. But by Grace, He desire us.

His mercy saves us from His righteous wrath. His grace makes us a subject of His love.

Remember the parable of the prodigal son? When the father receives his son with open arms, does not charge him with anything, that is mercy! But when he prepares a feast to celebrate the return of his child, that is grace.

We all had a debt of sin. We could never pay this debt. But God paid it for us by sending us His only Son to die in our place. That’s mercy. Our debt has been paid.

But he did more: in addition to paying our debt, He has placed in our account a large amount. We went from a situation of debt to a credit situation. He not only deliver us from hell, but assures us of heaven.

Mercy is not giving us what we deserve. Grace is giving us exactly what we do not deserve. What do we deserve from God? Life or Death?  Blessing or curse? Well, if we are sinners, we deserve death. But mercy triumphs over judgement. Instead of his wrath, we receive His love. Instead of death, eternal life.

That same grace shall be our motivation to serve him. We do not do well with the intent to become worthy of it. The good we do must have the intention of showing our gratitude for all He has done for us. That’s grace! We do not want to impress him. Or to press him to do our will. No! We want to please him in everything, because we love him.

Why do we love him? Because He first loved us.

If before we had a debt of sin, now we have a debt of gratitude.

Because of mercy, we are alive.

In Lamentations 3:22-23, Jeremiah says: “It is of the LORD’S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.”

But the grace goes beyond that.

Because of mercy, we are alive. Because of His grace our lives have purpose.

Now, the sacred writer invites us to come unto the throne of grace with confidence. Not self-confidence. But trust in His mercy and grace. We must do so with the assurance that we will be rescued in time. If He gave us His own Son, He would be unable to deny any good to those who trust in him.



Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

How can I keep in silence?

That’s the lyrics in English:

How can I keep in silence?

How can I silence
Faced with this sea of violence?
Men kill for so little
claiming it is for survival

How can I silence
When I see around me so hungry?
How do I consent to something that consumes me and revolt?

How can I be silent?
Seeing young people getting high on street corners
And tourists looking
Prostitutes who are just girls

How can I be silent?
If the justice who was blind partiality
and impunity is the fuel of corruption

How can I be silent?
When I see my people hostage to terror
And the crime is spreading insecurity and disaffection

How can I be silent?
If my eyes do not see a silver lining
And all with one voice talking all the time for revenge
Revenge for what? I just want bonanza!

What do to change this reality?
Suffice to say who will bring Peace to the City
Who can give respite to the war,
Bringing peace to all nations of the earth?
Jesus is the Prince of Peace
Peace: Only Jesus brings!
But peace is only possible where there is justice and love
So there will be peace if there is love

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Our Debt to the Future

“I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise. So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also.” Rom. 1:14-15

By Hermes C. Fernandes

Paul, as an apostle of God’s Grace, he knew that his debt had been paid off with God on the Cross. However, he recognizes a new debt contracted during the time when the Lord saved him and was “apostle to the Gentiles. Likewise, we all had a debt to the past, and now we have a debt to the future. We had a debt with God, and now we have a debt to the world. Where did this conscience in Paul? He answers himself: “And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did {it} ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. This {is} a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting” (1 Tim. 1 :12-16). Paul knew the Lord had chosen him and saved his testimony to serve as a model for all who were reached by the Gospel.

Preaching the Gospel is not something optional but an obligation. “For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! For if I do this thing willingly, I have a reward: but if against my will, a dispensation {of the gospel} is committed unto me. What is my reward then? {Verily} that, when I preach the gospel, I may make the gospel of Christ without charge, that I abuse not my power in the gospel. For though I be free from all {men}, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all {men}, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with {you}”(1 Cor 9:16-23). No matter what the price would have to be paid, Paul was willing to do anything to accomplish his mission. Not even his life was taken by valuable in comparison to its mission. “But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.”(Act. 20: 24).

Despite being an “obligation”, Paul met with “joy in their ministry. It was not just an obligation but a grace, a privilege. “Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ”(Ephesians 3:7-8). That sentiment should pulsate in the heart of every Christian.We are all debtors, and we have no alternative but, preach the Gospel to all without distinction. Was that they were achieved.

What happens when we neglect our role? When we see our salvation as an end in itself and not a means to achieve the other? Let us take as a reference known Old Testament story, involving a family whose head was gone, leaving behind a debt:

“Now there cried a certain woman of the wives of the sons of the prophets unto Elisha, saying, Thy servant my husband is dead; and thou knowest that thy servant did fear the LORD: and the creditor is come to take unto him my two sons to be bondmen. And Elisha said unto her, What shall I do for thee? tell me, what hast thou in the house? And she said, Thine handmaid hath not any thing in the house, save a pot of oil. Then he said, Go, borrow thee vessels abroad of all thy neighbours, {even} empty vessels; borrow not a few. {borrow not…: or, scant not} And when thou art come in, thou shalt shut the door upon thee and upon thy sons, and shalt pour out into all those vessels, and thou shalt set aside that which is full. So she went from him, and shut the door upon her and upon her sons, who brought {the vessels} to her; and she poured out. And it came to pass, when the vessels were full, that she said unto her son, Bring me yet a vessel. And he said unto her, {There is} not a vessel more. And the oil stayed. Then she came and told the man of God. And he said, Go, sell the oil, and pay thy debt, and live thou and thy children of the rest. {debt: or, creditor}.” II Kings 4:1-7

That’s a disciple of the prophets “had died and left a debt to his family. And given the inability of the widow in her balance, creditors wanted nothing less than their children as payment. Similarly, when we do not pay our debt to the world, sometimes our children are claimed as payment.

From which there are so many children of believers away from the path? Do not just be a disciple of a great prophet, or just fear the Lord. We do not know when we will leave this world, and therefore urges spend every moment of our lives to accomplish our mission. We can not leave a debt behind for our children to be delivered as payment.

Unfortunately, we must admit that whole generations of Christians have left this world without fully meeting its mission. Somehow, we are paying the debt that these generations have left us. That is why the world is so violent. Why do so many wars? Still hungry? The church has been negligent in their duties. From that came the rumor that the world was about to end, the Church crossed his arms and gave the cockroaches.What’s worse is that this “rumor” became doctrine and orthodoxy. Far from us disagree with the doctrine that teaches the glorious return of Christ. What we question is the escapism adopted by many in response to this doctrine. Jesus will come in glory, no doubt. But that does not serve us as an excuse for our inaction. I hope that when He comes, we find the sleeves rolled up, working for the transformation of the world.

Elisha asked mullher to that she had at home. A jar of oil, it was all she had. In the eyes of the prophet, it would be the starting point for a radical change in his situation. We believe that God intends to restore the world. But what is the starting point of this restaurant? What we have at home: our children, our family. Our family is our pot of oil.Our children are our particular contribution to a better world. But we can not stop there. It is the starting point, but not the finish line. Elisha told the woman was the neighbors, and collect the largest possible number of empty vessels. And what did she do? Sent their children. We need to educate our children that they are our “special envoys”, our missionaries, our extension.

Are they going to get “bowls” in school, in college, the neighborhood, the kindred. After the containers brought in following the prophet’s guidance, she closed the door behind her and her children, and began to fill with oil that was in his small tank. As the containers were full, she separated them from others. This is the process of sanctification. The Holy Spirit fills and separates. The church must be constantly sent to the world, but can never neglect sanctification. The containers arrive empty, are filled and then separated. “Close the door” also points to the importance of family worship, the altar Home. While there were empty vessels, the oil kept flowing. But when the bowls are over, the oil ceased. “Close the door” offers benefits and risks. We must close them, but not lock them. We can not stop the flow of new vessels. If they stop coming, the oil will stop flowing. There are no limits to God. There is enough oil to fill all the vessels of the World!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Trying to define the indefinable

“Love is to be completely vulnerable. Love any thing and your heart will certainly be pressed and will possibly be broken (…) the only place beyond the sky where you are completely immune to all the dangers and concerns of the love is in the hell.” C.S.Lewis

“The love which exalts is worship, the one which goes outside is affection; the one which inclinates is mercy.” Donald Barnhouse

I grew up in a place full of supernatural manifestation. Cures, liberation of malign spirits were so frequent phenomena in my dad´s ministry, that they didn´t surprise me anymore. I could mention easily a great number of miraculous cases I could watch during my childhood and adolescence. I learned since I was young, that God answers the prayer of His children.

When I was 17 years old I had to temporarily assume the pastorate of a church in Engenho Novo, Rio de Janeiro. There I could test everything I had learned from my father. Even without much experience, I felt I was used by God to release the pain of many sufferers.

The growing of that first church let me receive the invitation to pastorate The headquarters of the churches led by my father. At that time, I was 19 years old. There, God continued to act efficiently through my ministry.

I received invitations to preach in The United States, where God also carried through feats. I preached in Cruzades and Campaigns in many different cities of Brazil, such as, Curitiba, São Luís, Juiz de Fora, Campinas, Belo Horizonte, Brasília, Cuiabá and many others.

I presented radio and TV programs. I published my first book in 1992. My ministry was growing.

When I was 22, I founded next to my father the ministry which I preside since the death of my father in 2001.

In 1995, When I was 25 years old, my ministry suffered a shake-up.

God presented me and my wife Tania with a special daughter. She was 5, but she had never walked or talked. After going to many experts, we heard from a bolivian doctor that our daughter would never walk.

It shuffled my head.

How could I continue preaching that Christ cures, if my own daughter wasn´t able to walk?

One day, when I talked to a young lady in my office, she felt possessed by a malign spirit, that through her mouth said: “ I am the responsible for your daughter´s disease. My purpose is to shame your ministry.”

That was the end! I hold my daughter, went to the back of the church and prayed to God. It was March 21,1993. From that moment on, every day I thanked for have cured my daughter on that date.

Time had passed, but my daughter hasn´t showed any better signs.

It was a Saturday of October, 1995. I woke up with a strong desire to pray.

I told my wife I didn´t want to be interrupted. I locked myself in the room listening to a worship song and I started to open my heart to God.

My words were like this:

- Lord, it´s not fair my daughter continues sick. Remember all I have done for your workmanship. Remember all the youth I spent in your church. Remember my sacrifices. Remember that my father gave 30 years of his life to your workmanship. Since when, Lord, will my daughter be the shame of my ministry?

It was as if I forced God to cure my daughter, just because of my merit. Suddenly, I felt something was happening. I shut up and waited. A sweet and soft voice addressed to my heart:

- Why do your deeds give you the right to charge me anything? I owe you nothing. What I do in man´s life isn´t by his merit, but by my grace. And more: I have cured her in the cross.

In the first moment, I wanted to argue. But that voice, although it was sweet, it sounded like unmatchable authority.

I opened my Bible and started to read Paul´s letter to the Romans. The sensation was that a blindfold has been removed from my eyes. Everything was clear. I have been a minister for 8 years but I haven´t noticed yet. It was a revelation. I can´t find a word that best defines that experience.

Tania and I decided to appoint a thanksgiving cult for the life of Rayane. For the first time, I exposed our daughter´s problem.

Up to that moment, I have always oriented my wife to keep our daughter out of the curious looks of the churchbrothers. They used to sit in the last bench of the church, and before it ended, she had taken her to my office.

While everyone was listening to my explamation, I finished up: “Don´t be sad. Lord had cured our daughter in the cross. There, He made all the provision.”

Some days later, on an evening Sunday cult; during the offertory, my wife took the money from her purse. Suddenly, Rayane took the money from her hand, stood up and walked toward the pulpit, and let it there. Everyone was astonished, even me. Some, impressed, started to cry. I was seized with surprise. I didn´t know how to react to waht God had done ahead of my eyes. My daughter had finally walked for the first time.

Since then, the emphasis of my ministry has been the marvellous and admirable God’s grace.

When we talk about “grace”, we talk about the unworthy favor allowed by God to the men. Grace is the way through God work with His creatures.

We must understand that grace has a source, and it’s love.

Grace is related to God’s act procedure. Love is related to God´s being. He acts gracefully for those who love Him.

Love is the source through grace arises.

I like very much the definition given by Philip Yancey:

“Grace means there’s nothing we can do for God loves us more – no quantity of renunciation; no knowledge acquired in Seminars and Theology Universities, no Cruzades in favor of the right motives. And grace means there’s nothing we can do for God loves us less – no quantity of racism or proud, pornography or adultery, or even murder. Grace means God has already loved us as much as it’s possible for an eternal God loves us.”

I praise God for each ministry which has emphasized grace nowadays,despite some excess, and of what Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.” In fact , Charles Swindoll is totally right when he says that preaching grace is a great risk. Despite of it, I prefer to preach the truth and run the risk of being badlly interpreted than to preach the lie that man can be saved by his merits. Unfortunatelly I perceive many who preach grace, tranforms it into a war horse, bringing separations among the brothers. Maybe they need to recognize the source of all grace is love. Where there’s lack of love, there’s lack of grace.

Many arguments could be avoided if the christians learned to love. The contemporary church would make well listening to Peter’s admonition: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”

Each minintry wants to fly its own falg. For some, it’s the cure. For others, prosperity. Others still emphasize the sactification, the discipleship, while others emphasize the grace. Which one must be our flag? According to the wise Solomon, our flag should be love.

Let’s omit these unfruitful discussions.

Doctrines, discipleship, evangelistic strategies, eclesiastic models, everything has its place. But only love is indispensable.

Love builds bridges, fills it up with the precipice, reduces the distance. There’s only communion where there’s love. There’s only peace, where love reigns.

Without love, everything is nonsense. Without love, our floor is like quicksand, our beliefs become questionable, our dreams become nightmare, which we can’t wake up.

Love is about converting yourself to God and to your neighbor. It’s about existing to the other. It’s about renouncing to be under the spotlight, and to be the center of the attentions.

Love is about giving the other the oportunity to be different, without being less important. It’s to celebrate the differences, at the same time you believe in the equality. At last, we are equal in dignity, but different in every else.

Hurray the difference!

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments