Post-Election Letter to My Church

votedWhen the elections happened last Tuesday I was in Rwanda with a mission team (I did vote by absentee ballot ahead of time). As things played out during the week my staff asked me to consider writing a letter that they could read in church while I was away. Since my return from Rwanda yesterday, a number of people asked me if I could share the letter with them in print form so here it is.

 


Dear Eastbrook family,

I want to thank all of you who are praying for me and the team here in Rwanda as we minister to men and pastors here. We have felt your support and prayer throughout the week, and as you read this we will be concluding our time and boarding flights back home. Thank you for being a church who I know will truly pray for us while we are away.

It has been a very interesting experience to be here, watching the presidential election results displayed on the BBC while surrounded by brothers and sisters from another nation. It has reminded me that our God is bigger than any nation and that our family is bigger than any ethnicity, language, or people group. Earlier today, one of the pastors here in Kigali, Rwanda, prayed for us, for our churches, and for revival in the United States. It was not that different from our moment together last weekend in services at Eastbrook.

For some, the presidential election is a victory while for others it is a defeat. Some of us are encouraged today and some of us are discouraged. While we all still consider what this means for our country, I am reminded of two truths from the Scripture. The first comes from the Old Testament book of Daniel when the wicked King Nebuchadnezzar was rebuked for his pride and sinful ways: “the Most High is sovereign over all the kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes” (Daniel 4:32). Daniel remained faithful to God as an exile through the reigns of many kings who came and went. God reigns over all the nations, and he gives and takes power from human beings. Sometimes God gives us the leaders we desire or, perhaps worse, deserve. The second truth is from Paul’s letter to the young pastor Timothy: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). No matter whether we live in a first century empire or a twenty-first century democracy, we are called to pray for leaders. We must live by these truths.

In light of the deep divides in our country, the demeaning rhetoric that abounds, the sense that some people are not valued as highly as others, and the overall lack of moral integrity in leadership, we must walk in a different way as the family of God at Eastbrook. We want to be a snapshot of the Revelation 7:9-10 church. This means we will live primarily as citizens of the kingdom of God and as exiles in this land. This means we will walk together and not let the divisions of this world pull us apart. This means that we will speak with truth and love, and not stoop to name-calling of one another or others. This means we will be a voice for the voiceless, care for those in need, and welcome with hospitality the foreigners in our midst. This means that we will carry each other’s burdens and seek for all people to experience the full dignity of being made in God’s image and entering into the joy of the gospel.

So, let me say that I cannot wait to see you again soon, Eastbrook family. Your brothers and sisters in Rwanda send their greetings and prayers your way. I believe we can learn a lot from their experience of God’s grace through hardship, God’s healing from wounds, God’s reconciliation amidst conflict, and God’s beauty from ashes. God is our shepherd and we always come back to the words of Psalm 20:7 – “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.”

Matt

Where Are We?

Is the terrifying trend in American politics a slim chance to recover our souls? Will the alarming rhetoric and substanceless rampaging open the eyes of our people to reality, meaning, and consequences, or have we teetered over the edge of sanity into the purgatorial spiral of steady cultural decay?

Will the remnant stand up, speak out, or help stave off decay’s burn within the holy community of the kingdom? Which pathway is the best way forward for these days?

Still the Cross is the crossroads of history, the epicenter of life, and the intersection of present-time with eternity. The sacred feast is still the place where we are with Him, look back in our union with Him in His death, and look forward to the anticipated union in eternal light with Him. There is no other gateway of God’s grace than that found Jesus Messiah. There is no emperor to save us for now we see clearly that all the emperors have lost their clothes. Their naked power is revealed for what it is: the belly-rolled fat of shameful excess, the heaving one-upmanship of sexual aggression, and the pale skin of lifeless hearts never exposed to the Light. The emperors, we find, are just like us: powerless before greater powers and lifeless without life.

Now, like children lost in the pounding waves, wee gasp for air and strive to rise above the surging powers we have unwittingly set in motion. Even so, those powers…they are not God.

How Are Refugees Resettled?

After my message this past weekend at Eastbrook, where I offered some final comments about the current response to refugees in the States, I had some conversations with people about how we resettle refugees and whether it is ‘safe’ to do so given what happened in Paris. This is something we should take seriously. It is also something we must be informed about. Here is a basic overview of the process from an article in September on the PBS NewsHour website, “U.S. to welcome 10,000 more Syrian refugees. How are they picked?” Take a quick read below.

For an even deeper look at the security screening involved, you may want to read another article on the Refugee Council USA website, “Security Screening of Refugees Admitted to the United States: A Detailed, Rigorous Process.

Heeding international cries for the United States to do its part to help migrants, President Barack Obama has ordered the administration to bring 10,000 Syrian refugees into the U.S. over the next year.

It usually takes about 18-24 months to process a case from referral or application to arrival in the U.S., so can the 10,000 target be hit?

Yes, said a State Department official speaking on background to reporters on Friday, because the department already has more than 10,000 applications in hand through its $1.1 billion resettlement program.

What process do the applicants go through?

  • Refugees apply for resettlement, mostly through the U.N. refugee agency known as the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. UNHCR has stepped up its referrals to the United States since 2014 for the most vulnerable candidates, including female-headed households, victims of torture, LGBT refugees, religious minorities and those who need medical care. The vast majority of Syrian referrals come from five countries: Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt and Iraq.

  • UNHCR sets aside the majority of cases it believes would run into problems with security in the U.S. under the Terrorism-Related Inadmissibility Grounds guidelines, and it instead tries resettling the refugees in other countries, the official said.

  • There are other “direct application” programs for special cases including U.S.-affiliated Iraqis, Iranian religious minorities, former Soviet Union religious minorities, Cubans and Central American minors with a legal parent in the U.S.

  • The refugees undergo an in-person interview by Department of Homeland officials for security purposes and a medical exam by the Department of Health and Human Services to see if they have tuberculosis. If they do, their application is suspended until they undergo treatment.

  • Once accepted, the refugees travel to the U.S. is arranged by the International Organization for Migration. The refugees sign a form saying they will repay the travel loan.

  • The refugees are sent to about 180 communities in the United States that have resettlement programs, including Atlanta, San Diego, Houston, Dallas, Chicago and Boston. The department doesn’t send refugees to cities such as San Francisco, New York and Washington, D.C., because the rent is generally too expensive, said the official. The newcomers can choose to move to other cities if they don’t like where they’ve been placed.

Glory in the Ordinary

Red_vineyardsThere is a beautifully striking painting by Vincent van Gogh entitled “The Red Vineyard.” This painting was the only official purchase of a van Gogh painting within the artist’s lifetime. Building on the work of Millet before him, van Gogh paints a group of common peasants working diligently in the vineyard, bathed in the warm light of the setting sun. The scene is both commonplace and lofty, everyday and exalted: ordinary people doing their ordinary work, yet splashed with the sun’s glory as they do it.

Surely, this is a picture of how we work with God in our everyday venues of work: ordinary people doing their ordinary work, yet splashed with the glory of Christ as we do our work as unto the Lord (Col 3:22-24).