Unexpected blessings

May God bless you with discomfort
at easy answers, hard hearts, half-truths, and superficial relationships. May God bless you so that you may live from deep within your heart where God’s Spirit dwells.

May God bless you with anger
at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people. May God bless you so that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless you with tears
to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war. May God bless you so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness
to believe that you can make a difference in this world, in your neighborhood, so that you will courageously try what you don’t think you can do, but, in Jesus Christ you’ll have all the strength necessary.

May God bless you to fearlessly speak out about injustice, unjust laws, corrupt politicians, unjust and cruel treatment of prisoners, and senseless wars, genocides, starvation, and poverty that is so pervasive.

May God bless you that you remember we are all called to continue God’s redemptive work of love and healing in God’s place, in and through God’s name, in God’s Spirit, continually creating and breathing new life and grace into everything and everyone we touch.

Graphic provided by agenerousgrace.com


Several times now in worship services at
Trinity CRC I’ve used and adapted this Franciscan blessing that asks God to bless us with discomfort, anger, tears, foolishness, and courage. Originally published in Troubadour: A Missionary Magazine, it now appears on many websites.

My neighbor, the immigrant

I am an immigrant. I was born and raised in Canada but a religious worker visa allows me to currently live and work in the United States. My visa expires later this year so my family is working on becoming permanent residents of this great country.

My parents are immigrants. With their parents (my grandparents) they left the war-torn Netherlands soon after the end of World War II. My grandparents arrived in Canada with only a suitcase or two of belongings and began working for the farmers who sponsored them.

Perhaps it is because I am an immigrant and a son of immigrants that I watch with interest news that has to do with immigration, whether it has to do with deporting people who are here without proper documentation or creating barriers (literal and ideological) to keep foreigners out. I realize that not everyone advocating for these measures holds to a Christian worldview as I do; however, removing foreigners and turning away people who need our help should dismay those who follow Jesus and take the Bible seriously.

The Bible says, “When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born.” In the New Testament, much of Jesus’ ministry is with “foreigners” – Samaritans and others rejected by the society of his day. And it is Jesus who says that when we feed the hungry, give those who are thirsting something to drink, and welcome in the stranger, it is as though we are doing these things to Jesus: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

I realize that immigration is a complex issue. I cannot condone breaking the law and it is prudent for a country to have secure borders. However, I believe it is possible for immigration laws to be both just and merciful, characterized by both common sense and compassion. More fundamentally, I believe that as a Christian, while I can recognize immigration as an issue, I am compelled to see immigrants themselves as my neighbors – people God has given me to love and perhaps whom he will use to bless me.

Immigration graphic found via Google

It turns out that in God’s eyes we are all immigrants regardless of the name of the country on our passports. According to God’s law, my sin should have expelled me from God’s presence. However, in Christ, God welcomes me into his family and makes me a citizen of a Kingdom that knows no geographical or political boundaries. Many of the Bible’s commands to help the fatherless, the widow, and foreigner have attached to them the reminder that God’s people were once foreigners – foreigners in Egypt, foreigners cut off by sin. But by grace, I am welcomed into God’s family and Kingdom. If I really “get” this, I will have a similar posture, one of hospitality and kindness, whether it’s toward my family or coworkers, my neighbor who has always lived down the street or the one who recently moved into town from another country.


This was my column in last week’s
Rock Valley Bee.
Websites and articles I’ve found helpful in thinking about this topic:
justice.crcna.org ::
evangelicalimmigrationtable.com ::
Think Christian: “A Theology of Immigration” ::
The Banner: “What Does It Mean to Love Your Neighbor?” ::
Relevant: “We Are Called to Serve Immigrants” ::

Ashes

Ashes graphic found via GoogleIt’s been quite a few years since I’ve been to an Ash Wednesday service. I’m glad I went yesterday at St. Mary’s Catholic Church. Being there helped me discover something to give up for Lent this year.

One of the songs we sang was “Ashes to Ashes,” a relatively new one composed by Daniel L. Schutte (perhaps most well known for “Here I Am, Lord”). Here’s the chorus:

Ashes to ashes, from dust unto dust.
The cross on our forehead, your promise, O God.
Ready to follow the way of your Son,
to rise from these ashes, redeemed in the fire of your love.

The verses are adapted from Joel 3. Here are two of them:

Rend your hearts, not your garments;
return to the Lord
who delights when we offer
a truly humble heart.

Let us fast from unkindness
and turn from our greed,
giving bread to the hungry
and lifting up the poor.

What better things to give up for Lent than unkindness and greed? Quitting those might afford me more time to consider the needs of others, particularly the hungry and the poor – the kind of people Jesus regularly showed interest in.

I have to admit I’m quickly intimidated and overwhelmed by wondering how I can respond to the needs of the poor. Thankfully I don’t have to figure this out on my own. The final verse of the song assures me of the help of God Himself!

Though his nature is holy
yet Christ became sin,
so that we might inherit
the holiness of God.


(Chris Brunelle’s cover of “Ashes to Ashes” is here.)