When my mother slowly lost her mind due to dementia (Alzheimer’s disease), I was heartbroken. Then, I was angry. As the months turned into years, I started to become resentful and bitter toward God. Why didn’t God spare her and us from so much suffering? Why did he fail us?
In the final chapter of my book, What We Can Expect from God Now: Seven Spiritual Truths for Trusting God in Troubled Times, I tell my own personal story of grief over many losses in my life, including my mother’s heart-wrenching demise. During those years, I almost lost my faith. But one day, something surprising happened that saved my relationship with God. I understood that I needed to make a choice, a very important choice, with huge potential consequences.
In short, I finally understood what Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, meant when he wrote about his “leap to faith.” As a thinking-oriented person, ironically mired in resentment and bitterness, I had just about lost all hope for healing and renewal. But, what happened that day, and the decision I made, turned out to be a huge turning point in my life, for which I will always be grateful.
If you’ve been struggling with your faith, or feel resentful or even bitter toward God for something God did or didn’t do when you were suffering, I hope that something in this chapter will be life-giving and healing for you.
What’s your strategy for dealing with anxiety? Do you have a good one? Is it working?
In this chapter, I talk about my own experience with anxiety and some of what I have learned that has been most helpful to me over the years. For example, when I face my anxieties directly, they lose some of their power over me. When I use a practical tool that I developed to help me whenever I feel overwhelmed with anxiety (which I explain in detail in the video), I feel more peace and am better able to redirect my energy in positive directions. When a situation is completely outside of my control, I get strength by waiting on God. Most of the examples pertain to the COVID-19 pandemic, but I hope the application to the current political and social crises will be obvious.
I know that there is a lot to be concerned about in these troubled times. I pray that the teaching in this chapter will be practical and helpful for you. As you put your faith into action and apply this spiritual wisdom when you feel anxious, you will see the difference. You will grow in many ways, be more useful to yourself and others, and God will give you greater peace, strength, and confidence to face all that you must face and endure.
When we are so cruelly mistreated or suffer tragedy, or whose lives and hopes have been severely disrupted by abusers or threatening forces, we will naturally experience the typical symptoms of grief (shock, bargaining, anger, depression). Consequently, it is no surprise that the people who are writing to me from Myanmar this week are stunned, angry, confused, discouraged, or simply terrified over the wanton destruction in Chin State and elsewhere in Myanmar.
Just a week ago, one of my former students, Pastor Cung Biak Hum, was shot to death as he rode his motorcycle into the town of Thantlang (Chin State, Myanmar) to help families whose homes were being burned to the ground by occupying forces. Any death is painful, but senseless, cruel, and brutal killings of those who are trying to help others in their time of need, and who leave behind a loving spouse and small children, are especially distressing. He’s now an inspiration and hero to many, but he will greatly missed.
Right now, you may be feeling the same way about suffering or oppression in your own life or about someone you care about. You may be nearly out of your mind with distress, worry and fear. You’re wondering, what’s going to happen next? How should you be praying? If God is not going to spare you from suffering, why should you pray at all? What are some practical ways to deal with fear and anxiety about the future?
In this week’s chapter, the spiritual truth addresses these questions. Though it was originally written to help readers to deal with their anxiety over COVID-19, the spiritual truth in it applies to all kinds of fears and worries.
I cannot fully answer why God is allowing you to suffer as you are. But I can assure you of Jesus’ love and care for you, and of his desire to minister to you in your time of loss and suffering. After I finish reading the chapter, I offer some additional, personal words of encouragement, especially for those suffering in Myanmar right now.
It’s such a disturbing and frightening time in so many other places around the world right now. The past weeks have been especially terrifying for the Burmese people in Myanmar. More brutality. More death. More uncertainty. More and more displaced people are on the run, fleeing for their lives. The spiritual question on the minds of many is, what is the relevance of faith and one’s relationship with God in the face of such horrors and challenges? What is the role of prayer when we all we are experiencing is oppression, deprivation, and suffering?
This week, in the chapter I’m reading from my book, “What We Can Expect from God Now: Seven Spiritual Truths for Trusting God in Troubled Times,” I share some biblical answers to these extremely important questions. In it, I talk about how the Apostle Paul encouraged other followers of Christ who were facing great suffering, deprivation, and even death in their day. His teaching is both reassuring and practical for all those who looking for more strength, courage, and confidence to sustain them throughout their long dark night, whenever and wherever it comes.
Though you may experience much suffering in this life, nothing can separate you from the love of God which comes to you through Jesus Christ. This kind of love is nothing less than God’s presence with you through his Holy Spirit, who consoles you in your suffering and enables you to live, to love, and to experience the love and support from other brothers and sisters in Christ. God’s enduring love and presence also guarantees that no matter what happens in your life, suffering and death are not the final chapters for followers of Christ. Once this life is finished, you will spend eternity in God’s loving presence.
Suffering. It’s so often unfair, unjust, and wretched. No one wants to suffer–ever! Yet, everyone suffers, and suffering is nothing new, particularly for those who seek to honor God and serve him faithfully. Jesus himself suffered horribly in order to fulfill his mission.
As hard as it is to hear or accept, suffering was promised to all his followers, as well. But here is our hope: so was his glory.
In this chapter, I talk about the promise that those who share in Jesus Christ’s sufferings will also share in his glory (Rom. 8:17). So many questions arise from this simple statement. For example, what kind of suffering did Paul have in mind? What did he mean that followers of Jesus will share in Christ’s’ glory? Why is this message so important for all followers of Christ, especially for those facing persecution, oppression, disease and possible death?
Not all questions can be answered definitively, nor is it clear how normal human suffering relates to suffering for Christ. Yet, the witness of the New Testament is clear that suffering is a certainty in life, greater suffering awaits those who follow Christ faithfully, and our great hope lies in trusting God to make all things right one day and to reward those who choose to live by their faith in the midst of their suffering.
My prayer is that God will speak to you through this video to give you more hope, strength, and courage to face whatever you must face in these very difficult days.
In this third chapter, I talk about three types of responses to the COVID-19 crisis: there are the
• positive-thinkers, and
• overwhelmed observers.
Which type of person best describes you? Which kind of person do you want to be?
On your own, you may feel very weak and afraid sometimes, especially when you are suffering so much. Yet, the biblical writers teach that if you put your faith in God’s working in your life, you can expect God to strengthen your faith, build your character, and restore your hope through your suffering. God will bring good out of your experiences, which God defines as our becoming more and more like Jesus Christ.
In times of crisis, many of us instinctively respond with a Fight, Flee or Freeze response, which can lead to poor decisions and ineffective leadership. So, how can we go beyond these instincts to make good decisions, based on the leading of the Holy Spirit?
In this second chapter of my book, I talk about my struggle to discern the will of God when I was conducting leadership workshops for ministers in Myanmar, when the COVID-19 pandemic first started, back in March 2020. Through this difficult time, and in many situations since then, I have seen the wisdom and effectiveness of a “both-and” approach to decision-making, which I explain in the video.
I pray that each one of these spiritual truths will help you to experience more of God’s loving presence and the power of the Holy Spirit’s power from day to day, and that God will use these videos to strengthen and encourage you in many ways to live better by faith in the midst of your hardships and suffering.
NEW VIDEO SERIES ON TRUSTING GOD IN TROUBLED TIMES!
(Produced in ENGLISH with BURMESE subtitles)
I’m very happy to now be able to share with you my most recent book, “What We Can Expect from God Now: Seven Spiritual Truths for Trusting God in Troubled Times.” I originally wrote the book to offer a biblically-based perspective on how to live by faith in the COVID-19 crisis, but the spiritual truths are relevant in any time of uncertainty, hardship, and suffering. In this eight-part video series, I will be reading the entire book, chapter by chapter, as well as offering some additional words of encouragement each week.
In this first video in the series, I read Chapter One and talk about the impossibility of understanding all of God’s ways with our limited human minds. However, when Jesus opens our eyes, we can see God’s presence among us, and we can reach out to receive and benefit from all that God offers to us. I hope these videos will strengthen and encourage you in many ways. I pray that these spiritual truths will help you to experience more of God’s loving presence and the power of the Holy Spirit’s power from day to day.
This video was inspired by conversations with Burmese people inside of Myanmar, who feel powerless to stop the oppression, to keep their country from becoming a completely failed state, and now, to stem the advance of COVID-19, which has recently begun to spiral out of control. Hundreds of people are dying every day in Yangon alone, and COVID has spread to 90% of the townships throughout the country. The junta is increasingly shutting off access to oxygen and pharmacies for the people. Many are just waiting for someone in their family to get sick and die.
No one knows how long these crises will last or how much suffering they must endure, just as many others throughout the world live under the constant threat of abuse, exploitation, or unbearable hardship. While many are praying, watching, and waiting to see how God may intervene to help, at times it is easy to feel hopeless. It’s precisely in such moments that Jesus’ offer to help carry our burdens is so relevant and needed. Jesus’ presence, in and among us, is God’s great gift to comfort, strengthen, and encourage all those who follow him, especially when there seems to be so little hope for our circumstances to change.
Ahlone, mingalarbar. I’m Dr. Tim Geoffrion, a biblical professor with another spiritual word of encouragement for my friends in Myanmar.
This is a horrible time for all of you. I know very well that your suffering is great. As I listen to the news and talk to so many of you, I know that many of you feel very frustrated and are discouraged. Every day is a living nightmare. You may be praying to God for help, but the situation doesn’t seem to be getting any better. More and more people don’t have enough food to eat. Just today, I got another message that more and more people are dying due to COVID. It’s hard not to feel hopeless sometimes.
If that’s how you’re feeling, Jesus’ words in the Gospel of Matthew are especially for you today. As Jesus was spreading the Gospel and teaching people about God’s love and God’s ways, at one point, he turns to the crowd and says,
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30)
As you know, out in the villages, you can easily find carts being pulled by animals. When there are two animals, they are usually joined together by a common yoke—which is often a wooden frame that goes over the necks of both animals. By being yoked as one, they move together and work together, and the result is that their work is easier than if just one of them had to pull the cart by itself.
The spiritual meaning or image is clear. Jesus knows very well how heavy our loads can be and how tired we can get trying to carry them. And so his message is a word of encouragement for those who believe him and who put their trust in him. If we will take on his yoke, then we don’t have to carry our load by ourselves anymore. He will always be with us, and his presence will be an abiding source of strength for us. And furthermore, compared to trying to go through life without God or trying to handle all our stresses and problems in our own strength, Jesus’ yoke is “easy and light.” Life is not easy and light, but putting Jesus’ yoke on us, submitting to his ways, trusting him, following his ways make it easier for us to find our ways through this life and to handle the darkness when we come into it and have to face it. He also said that he is “gentle and humble of heart,” he says, and if we are willing to learn from him, we will find rest for our souls.
For me, my relationship with God through Jesus, is my absolute lifeline. When I’m feeling overwhelmed or anxious, which is in the past five or so months has been pretty much every day, the best thing I can do is to reach out to God, not just to ask for deliverance from my enemies and problems, but to simply connect with the Source of my life. I may get away by myself to pray or meditate on Scripture, or I’ll step out into Nature or look at the stars at night, just to remind me that I have a Creator and that there is still some beauty left in the universe.
Another way that I like to experience Jesus’ presence is by meeting with other followers of Christ. The idea is this, as Jesus is in me, so he is in them, so that when we gather together in Jesus’ name, his Spirit truly is present among us. And that’s what I experience.
This past week, for example, I joined a dozen colleagues from Myanmar for a prayer service online. We read Psalm 143 together, and each person shared how the psalm had spoken to them and had given them encouragement. We listened to one another and prayed together. And at the end, even though on the outside, things were still very dark and dangerous throughout Myanmar, everyone who was there felt stronger and encouraged because of our time together. And that was just one experience of the week. Every day, I’ve had many other such experiences with brothers and sisters in Christ who are going through tough times; but what we all have in common is that we share the yoke of Jesus Christ. We look to Jesus for guidance. We look to God for help, not just to solve our problems but to be our source of strength to face our problems.
The spiritual truth from these verses is this: When so much has been lost and the future is frightening and uncertain, you still have a hope that cannot be taken away from you. In the midst of so much that you can’t control or change, the presence of God through the Spirit of Jesus is the one solid rock you can stand on. Keep praying for God’s deliverance and intervention, but in your time of watching and waiting to see what will happen, don’t forget to also keep reaching out to Jesus. He’s the one abiding source of peace and strength that you can draw on to help you through the night.
Until the next time, I’ll be praying for you every day, as I have been.
ကိုယ့်ကိုယ်ကို ဂရုစိုက်ပါ (Take care of yourself.)
In this short video, I talk about where I see God’s light shining amid the darkness in Myanmar’s current crisis. The darkness is great, but the power of God’s love is inspiring and very encouraging, as lives are being nourished, strengthened, and changed among those who are actively seeking to reflect the light and love of Jesus Christ.
Ahlone. Mingalarbar. I’m so glad you are watching this week’s video. I’m Dr. Tim Geoffrion, a biblical professor and a friend to the people of Myanmar. I’m particularly looking forward to sharing something with you that has been really encouraging to me this week.
But first, in case you haven’t been following the news, the situation in Myanmar continues to deteriorate. Since just February 1, there are now some 175,000 newly Internally Displaced People (IDP’s). This is on top of the 370,000 IDP’s that were already living in camps or church yards or makeshift structures prior to the current crisis. Many of these new IDP’s are running for their lives. They have become extremely vulnerable, living in the jungles, in caves, and small villages, some of them just waiting to die. As the rainy season begins, many of these people will not have adequate shelter, food, or medicine.
Some of the stories I hear are horrifying and very frightening. And every day, I’m terrified thinking about will one of my students or colleagues or acquaintances be arrested, beaten, imprisoned for years, or even killed. These are indeed dark and difficult days for all those who live in Myanmar, and it’s that way for all those of us who love the Burmese people.
In this video, as I suggested at the beginning, my purpose is not just to update you on all the darkness, but also to talk to you about where I am seeing God’s light, shining in the darkness, and why I feel so encouraged.
Every day, I keep hearing new stories about individuals and groups of people, all over the country, who are providing rice, advocating for the defenseless, praying with the broken-hearted, helping people escape from danger, listening to one another’s stories, visiting the sick, and so much more. The love is coming from so many different places and going out in so many different directions. As a result, many people are surviving who would not otherwise; many people are finding some strength, and encouragement that would just not be available if it were not for those reaching out to them; and, among those who are giving so generously of themselves, even at great personal risk, I’m seeing more smiles on their faces, energy in their voices, pride, satisfaction, and inner strength. It’s really beautiful, and very encouraging, because it says to me, God is present, and God is at work. There is hope.
From a spiritual point of view, what I’m talking about is what happens when we accept God’s call to be a conduit of his love to those around us. By letting God’s love flow to us and through us, we experience the abundant life that Christ came to give us. We rediscover the hope that the Holy Spirit wants to breathe into our hearts. We find meaning and purpose, because we are taking our eyes off ourselves and giving our lives to serve others, just as Jesus taught us to do and showed us how to do by his amazing example (Mark 10:45)
I like the way the Apostle John explained it when he said, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; whoever loves is born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7).
This past week, I was particularly encouraged by hearing about one young seminarian, a person who chose to become an instrument of God’s love and light to some fellow refugees. He, himself, had recently barely escaped after a dozen rocket propelled grenades were fired into his home, in a compound where he lived. After moving from place to place, just to survive, he finally settled in a place, at least for now, and he got the idea one night of holding “family devotions,” something he experienced as a child growing up. But he did it with nine other refugees, who weren’t actually related, but in those circumstances, they were a small family, victims of the same catastrophe, huddled together, so far away from home, facing the same fears and dangers. Under this young man’s leadership, they spent time reading Scripture, praying, and just talking and listening to one another about their fears and experiences with one another. By his own account, he didn’t have much to offer them, but he gave them what he could. And that was something really precious, in that moment, for that day, in that hour, when people in need needed to experience Jesus, and needed to experience God’s love.
So, it’s stories like this one that are encouraging me so much this week. This is where I see the power of God’s light and love sustaining and changing lives, in the midst of so much darkness and evil.
Until the next time, let God’s love flow through you. I’ll be praying for you every day.
ကိုယ့်ကိုယ်ကို ဂရုစိုက်ပါ (Take care of yourself.)
မြန်မာပြည်အမြန် ငြိမ်းချမ်းပါစေ (Peace be upon Myanmar soon.)
Today, I’m going to talk about a spiritual practice that has been very helpful to me when I feel so powerless and angry, especially in those situations where someone I care about is being treated unjustly or being mistreated, and when I feel so limited in my ability to help. This is the second short video (6 minutes) in the current series, “Light in the Darkness.” I’m creating these videos in support of the Burmese people who have been suffering greatly in Myanmar as a result of a political coup on February 1, 2021. (Video is in English with Burmese subtitles.)
I’m not there in Myanmar facing danger every day, the way that so many of you are, but every time I hear about another killing, or that one of my students is fleeing through the jungles to escape capture, or that refugees don’t have enough food or medicine, I want to do something to help. But, in so many cases, there’s nothing I can do. I feel so frustrated, frustrated. I feel angry. I feel helpless.
At such times, I’ve learned how important it is to be willing to accept my powerlessness, to lament, and to reach out to God for comfort and help.
In Psalm 137, we find a great biblical example of lament. The ancient Israelites had been conquered by the Babylonian army and forced to live in a foreign country. It was miserable for them. They hated it, but they couldn’t do anything about it. And we get this picture of masses of exiles, sitting down by a river, just weeping with sorrow, and shaking with rage.
Listen to just a couple of the verses from this psalm, “By the rivers of Babylon—there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion [their homeland]. … O daughter Babylon, you devastator! Happy shall they be who pay you back what you have done to us! Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!”
I used to wonder, how could such violent words be in the Bible? But after all that’s been happening lately in Myanmar and in many other places around the world, I think I understand better now. The Israelites had to get all all their sorrow and grief and rage out of their system. And they had to reach out to God to help them, and to reach out from a place of emotional honesty.
When Mindat was under attack, recently, I was so upset and angry. I kept looking for ways to do something, anything that I could to help. Yet, it seemed like there was nothing I could do. I had watch helplessly as people were being hurt and people were fleeing for their lives. I could feel myself almost getting frantic in my desperation, but then I remembered what I’m supposed to do when I feel this way.
So, I found a quiet place. I took a deep breath. As painful as it was, I let myself feel my powerlessness. I didn’t stop caring, but I reminded myself that I have to accept my limitations. I have to wait until God shows me what I can do; and until then, I have to rely on God or someone else to do what I cannot.
Well, as I began to let go of what I could not control or do, I began to feel more peace. And with greater peace, I began to feel more strength. And little by little, I didn’t feel so powerless anymore.
The spiritual truth behind this practice is this: When we feel so much distress and pain, and our lives have been so wounded, and when we feel so overwhelmed and consumed with fear or despair, we need God. We need God’s help. We can’t face these things on our own. And so, we need to cry out to our Creator, who is the Source of our life. We need to cry out to the one who can renew our life when we feel as if we are about to lose it. We need to sit with our power-lessness. We need to lament, and we need to wait for God’s power-fullness, which comes to us through Christ and the Holy Spirit.
As the Apostle Peter said, “Humble yourselves…under the mighty hand of God, so that he may life you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.” (1 Pet. 5:6-7, NRSV) Amen.
Trust this. Let go of your powerlessness. Lament. And then reach out to God, reach out to Jesus Christ. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you the life that you can’t get in your own power.
Until the next time, I’ll be praying for you every day.
ကိုယ့္ ကိုယ္ ကို ဂရုစိုက္ပါ (Take care of yourself.)
ျမန္မာျပည္အျမန္ ျငိမ္း ခ်မ္းပါ ေစ (Peace be upon Myanmar soon.)
I’m in the process of creating a series of short videos to support and encourage the Burmese people and all those who need and want God’s help in the midst of their suffering. Each video focuses on one spiritual truth, based on the teaching of the Bible, my faith journey as a Christian, and decades of experience as a minister and professor of New Testament and Christian Spirituality. Though the immediate context for this video series is the attempted military coup in Myanmar, the spiritual truths discussed are applicable for all those who are facing overwhelmingly difficult times and who are looking to Christ for guidance, strength, and courage to face their darkness. (This video includes Burmese subtitles.)
Today, I want to talk with you about where we can find some light in the midst of this present darkness. And I wish I could tell you when this nightmare is going to be over, but I can’t. Instead, I want to share with you something that I’ve learned, which helps me in difficult times.
There’s a well-known story in the Bible that explains how our Creator reached out to us to shine light into our darkness. When I reread that story this week, I realized again that this is not just a story for history, this teaching expresses a spiritual reality that is relevant today, especially in times of great evil.
You know the story. It’s about Jesus and the life that comes to all those who put their faith in him. The Apostle John put it this way. He said: “In him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (John 1:4-5, NRSV). That’s the critical point. The darkness, did not, does not, and will not overcome the light of God.
You see, when all we can see around us is darkness, we need to remember God has not abandoned us in our suffering; and through Jesus, we have a continual source of light, strength, and courage to face whatever it is we have to face, because he helps us to know that there is something more than the darkness. Through the Holy Spirit of Jesus, we have a deep source of love that we can draw on, love from God for ourselves and also love that that we can draw on to spread his light and love to other people.
Now, it’s true, evil-doers are going to do whatever they can to try to swallow us up in their darkness. But they will not succeed. Oppressors can suppress and try to control us; but, they cannot force us to believe a lie. Darkness cannot overcome the light. Once we have seen the light of God, we will never accept the darkness as truth. Once we have seen the light of Jesus, nothing can extinguish the hope that he brings, not now and not for eternity.
Jesus himself said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). He didn’t say that there wouldn’t be darkness. There’s a lot of darkness all around us. Rather, he’s saying that in the midst of the darkness, through himself, through Jesus, we will always have light to guide us and to comfort us.
Think about how helpful it is to have a flashlight, or, some kind of light on your phone or from a candle, to shine into the darkness when we have to be outside at night, or when all the lights are off inside the house. The darker it is, the more valuable and precious is the light. If everything is light around us, we don’t need a flashlight. But that’s not our situation now, and that’s certainly not the situation in Myanmar. Right now the night is very, very dark these days, we need Christ’s light more than ever.
Friends, I don’t know how much darker things will get in Myanmar or how long until we see light at the end of the tunnel. But I do know this: There’s light that comes from our Creator God that is available to you right now, and this light can shine faith, hope, and love into your hearts. There’s life that comes through Jesus, which can give you strength and courage, peace and even joy, such as when you are with the people you love. Or when I sometimes experience the most joy is when I stop focusing on my problems and take time to share God’s love with others by caring for them in their distress and need.
This is our Creator’s plan for how we may encourage one another. This is how Christ shines his light in the darkness. So, look to Jesus as the Light of the world; and keep bringing his light and love to one another, and see what a difference that will make.
Until the next time, I’ll be praying for you every day.
There’s a lot of screaming going on right now. Emotions are running high, political opinions are polarized, and each side is predicting the end of democracy if the other candidate wins. November 3 is the official, designated Election Day, but who knows when all the votes will be counted and the country as a whole will agree who has been chosen as the next President of the United States. And Christians are in the thick of the debates, consternation, and furor.
Discerning the will of God
Disagreement among Christians is nothing new. In the early church in Jerusalem, there were “sharp disputes” among the leaders when it came to the right interpretation of the Gospel in various contexts (e.g., Acts 15:1-21). Paul and Barnabas disagreed, on at least one occasion, on the best candidate to accompany them on their missionary journey (Acts 15:36-41). Christians disagreed on lifestyle matters and religious freedoms, and they were prone to judge those who believed differently than themselves (e.g., Romans 14:1-5). At times, there was even inadvertent discrimination against various ethnic groups and leaders were charged with neglecting certain minorities, causing an uproar in the church (e.g., Acts 6:1). So, it should not surprise us today that sincere Christians would, at times, vehemently disagree with one another. There simply is not just one correct Christian view on community values, priorities, freedoms, policies, treatment of immigrants and minorities, etc.
The challenge for Christians does not come from the fact that we are disputing with one another and have sharp disagreements. No, the real issue is how do we do so in ways that honor Christ, glorify God, and truly lead to constructive outcomes. The Bible does not give a clear formula for how a church or society can always discern God’s will for the community. Rather, the biblical ideal calls Christians to learn how to listen to one another and seek God’s leading and will together. As individuals, we are called to submit ourselves to God, offer our lives as “living sacrifice” in the service of God and others, and to seek personal transformation by renewing our minds, so that we can discern the will of God (Rom. 12:1-2).
Of course, most biblical teaching refers to the Christian community and not the secular state. Furthermore, the political situation was different then from what it is today in the USA. Though the United States is republic, as was ancient Rome, prior to the empire, most early Christians would not have been Roman citizens or have had the right to vote. Yet, we can extrapolate from the teachings and examples in the New Testament to draw the following, simple guidelines at election time.
Biblically-based guidelines for making a responsible decision
Take your status as a member of society seriously and fulfill your responsibilities. Biblical writers taught Christians to be good (moral, responsible), participating members of society to the extent that was available to them (e.g., Rom. 13:1-7; 1 Pet. 2:13-17).
Be prayerful, discuss issues with other believers, and seek wisdom from God (e.g., Acts 15:6; James 1:4-7).
Listen to your conscience, have the courage to have your own opinion, and then act in faith. Whatever your position, Paul says, “Be fully convinced in your own mind” (Rom. 14:5).
Don’t judge those who take a different position or who choose to vote differently than you (Rom. 14:1-4).
Whatever you say or do, be thankful in your heart for your privilege and opportunity to vote as a citizen in a free society, and always seek to bring glory to God by your actions (Rom. 14:6; 1 Cor. 10:31).
Trust God to work for good in your individual life as well as in the nation, regardless of the outcome of the election (e.g., Romans 8:28-30).
In other words, in the secular context, in America, when it comes to voting for a particular presidential candidate, discerning the will of God mostly comes down tobecoming well-informed, being prayerful, staying open to the leading of the Holy Spirit to change your heart and mind when need be, making the best decision you can, and then filling in the little circle in front of your chosen candidate’s name on the ballot in time for your vote to be counted.
The upcoming election: Our choices
While most of us are going to choose (or have already chosen) between Trump and Biden on Election Day (rather than a third party candidate), the positions people take are more complicated than just being for or against a particular candidate. As I see it, there are roughly six different clusters into which we could group ourselves as well as other people. The first three clusters of citizens would likely vote for Biden, the second group of three for Trump.
Identifying the various groups helps me understand myself better–where I fit, how I may still differ from others who are voting the same way, and how I might be able to explain my choice more easily to others who are voting differently. It also helps me better understand someone else who is making a different decision, and to realize that, when a friend or family member votes for a candidate I’m not choosing, it doesn’t mean that he or she has lost all sensibilities, values, or faith!
Cluster 1: Extreme left. Variously defined, they will include socialists, communists, antifa, anarchists, et al. They will vote for Biden (or some third-party candidate) because he is far closer to their views than is Trump.
Cluster 2: Genuine supporters of Biden, who generally embrace the Democratic platform (e.g., universal health care, reform criminal justice system, special emphasis on protecting civil rights widely, etc.). They are not extremists but are proudly liberal on many issues.
Cluster 3: Those left-leaning independents, moderate Democrats, or disaffected Republicans, whose greatest concern is the potential negative effect of four more years of a Trump presidency. These folks may even favor some of the Republican platform policies but consider Trump and his leadership to be a bigger threat to the future of America than a Democratic president and Congress.
Cluster 4: Those right-leaning independents and moderate Republicans, who appreciate many of Trump’s accomplishments and actions taken as president, though they may be critical of his undesirable characteristics and behavior. For these folks, the Republican policies and platform are more important than how well they like the individual candidate.
Cluster 5: Those who both embrace the Republican platform and greatly appreciate and admire Donald Trump as an individual. They view him positively, possibly even the political, social, and religious (rights) savior of America and champion of Christian causes (most notably, pro-life/anti-abortion). They are conservative and probably very religious.
Cluster 6: Extreme right wing. Variously defined, they include libertarians, white supremacists, white nationalists, and Ku Klux Klan. These folks will vote for Trump (or some third-party libertarian) either because they discern that he is more or less secretly one of them or because Trump will lend support to their causes far better than Biden ever will.
So, which cluster is most suitable for a Christian? For whom should Christians vote on or before Election Day?
The answer is, there is no “right” answer–that is, one that is right for everyone. The decision is up to you. If you’ve done your homework, if you’ve been prayerful and open throughout the discernment process, if you have been willing to think for yourself, and if you are willing to act according to your own faith and conscience, then your decision is the right answer for you.
You may not like your choices (few of us do). You may be afraid of making a mistake or of being criticized by others for your choice. But, don’t let any of that hold you back. This is what comes with taking your responsibility as a citizen seriously. Please vote for someone of your choosing. It’s what you can do.
The faith that you have, have as your own conviction before God. Blessed are those who have no reason to condemn themselves because of what they approve. But those who have doubts are condemned if they [do something they don’t believe in], because they do not act from faith; for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
On October 10, 2020, I had the privilege of preaching at the marriage ceremony of the son of close family friends and his fiancée, both of whom I have come to know and love over the past several years. The following Charge to the Couple was edited both to protect their privacy and to make it applicable to anyone who wants more love and grace in their marriage.
The marriage day is one of the most important days of your life. It’s a day of celebration. It’s a day of commitment. And it’s a day of testimony to your love and intention to spend the rest of your lives together as husband and wife.
And yet, today is obviously not the beginning of your love and relationship. Today is a highpoint to be sure, but it is just one day, albeit one very special day, in a long flow that began when you first fell in love. So, for a few minutes, I’m going to talk about what you’ve been creating and what’s going to help you successfully continue on this path of mutual love and commitment, which we call marriage.
Live in love
To begin, it’s worth stating the obvious that we’re here today because of love. But, what’s not so obvious to everyone is that there are several different kinds of love, each of which has an important purpose in our relationships, and especially in marriage. C.S. Lewis famously wrote about each one in his book, The Four Loves. To make your marriage strong and enduring, commit yourselves to living in love and by love.
First of all, there is family love. This kind of love isn’t exactly the same for everyone, given that each of us has unique experiences growing up. For many it’s that special bond and affection that they feel for their family of origin. But for others, especially those who have had a painful childhood or been alienated from family members, family love may be felt for a group of people they have identified as their family members, whether they are actually related to them or not. No matter how we may define it, “family” is really important for most of us, because family love, at its best, is what gives us an emotional place of belonging, a place where we can experience unconditional love, and a place we can always return to in order to find people who accept us and want to be with us. What you’re doing today is creating a new family, and inheriting new, extended family members. Don’t take this love for granted. Commit yourself now to doing the hard work to nurture and develop family love as deeply and broadly as possible.
There is also the love between close friends. This kind of love enables you to be each other’s best friend—not only on date nights, but on Monday mornings when you don’t feel like going back to work, on Wednesday evenings when you’re having a hard time getting through the week, and on those long, cold days when there’s nothing to do and all you have is each other. No matter what you might have to face in the years to come, hold on to each other as best friends, and keep cultivating your friendship with one another at deeper and deeper levels.
Then, for a married couple, there is the love of mutual attraction, or what the ancient Greeks called, eros. This kind of love is God’s way of binding a man and a woman together in a unique way, creating a bond that is intended to last for a lifetime within the context of marriage. Celebrate it, thoroughly enjoy it, and carefully protect it. Reserve this level of intimacy for each other and no one else; and enjoy the special closeness that comes from it.
And then, finally, there is agape love. This is the kind of love that the Apostle Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 13. Agape love is “patient and kind. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” In other words, agape love goes beyond constantly changing moods and feelings, and expresses a commitment to do what is in the best interest of the other person, even when it requires personal sacrifice.
This is the kind of love God shows us, and the kind of love he wants us to show toward one another, regardless of attraction, friendship or family relations. It’s the kind of love that led Jesus to sacrifice his own comfort and personal agenda to stand up for others, and ultimately to give his life to demonstrate the unimaginable extent of God’s love.
One of my favorite stories in the Gospels actually started out on a sad note. Jesus’ cousin and close friend, John the Baptist, had just been killed. Jesus, shocked and heart-broken, gathered his disciples together to get away by themselves for a little while. They got in a boat and intended to get some rest and time alone, away from the demands of ministry, at their “lake home.” However, we read in Matthew (14:13-14) that when Jesus got to the other side of the lake, a crowd was already there, looking for him. When he saw them, he had compassion on them, because, in his perception, they were like sheep without a shepherd. So, he gave up his vacation plans and began to heal and teach them many things.
In marriage, there are going to be those times when your spouse is going to need something from you that you’d rather not give. Maybe you just sat down in your favorite chair with a book or turned on the TV to watch a show or game. Maybe you’re tired and just want some time to yourself. Maybe your annoyed or have lost patience. But you’re going to have to make a decision. Will you stop what you’re doing, or give up whatever you’d rather be doing, in order to care for your spouse? The degree to which you make these hard, self-sacrificial decisions will greatly determine how much love there will be in your marriage.
I know this is the kind of love you want to have in your marriage and in your family. It’s a noble ideal; but to live it out you’re going to need to help. And that leads us to the subject of God’s love and grace.
Be filled with grace
Your ability to be loving toward others is directly linked to your experience of being loved, especially by God. When you experience the kind of gracious love that God offers—unconditional, generous love, without strings attached—you develop your capacity to be loving and gracious toward others.
God lavishes his love on us not because of our worthiness, but because of who he is. It’s how he wants to relate to his creation. He wants to love us, and he has within himself the unlimited capacity to be gracious and kind, even when we are at our worst.
We read in Romans chapter two, that God’s kindness is intended to lead us to repentance. In other words, God often chooses to be patient, kind, and merciful toward us, not because he’s soft or doesn’t care, but because he knows that mercy is more powerful than judgment. He knows that the real goal: changing our hearts, producing lasting change, and cultivating love for him will rarely come from harsh judgment and punishment. Changes in the heart come from experiencing agape love, mercy and grace.
In marriage, if you want, you can judge and punish one another when the other person fails you. You have a right to do so. But it’s not the better way. And it won’t make the other person love you more. It simply can’t produce the heart change and the love you truly long for from one another. Kindness, mercy, and grace is what your partner needs when they are trying to get back on their feet and have no right to ask for anything from you.
In other words, grace recognizes that none of us is perfect, and never will be; yet there remains value and preciousness in each of us. Grace chooses to focus on the good, rather than on what’s wrong. Grace accepts the other person as they are, and it forgives when necessary. Grace believes in the other person, even when he or she cannot believe in him- or herself.
Put Christ at the center
When Jill and I got married 38 years ago, we had no idea what we were getting into! We loved each other very much and had become each other’s best friend, but there was so much we didn’t know about ourselves, let alone the other person. We had so much growing up still to do. Sometimes, in our immaturity, frustration, and disappointment, we hurt each other, and said or did things we now regret.
Yet, God’s love and grace gave us the ability to forgive each other when need be. And our common commitment to Christ helped us to rise above ourselves to find direction and purpose that was bigger than our own self-centered instincts. We haven’t been perfect in following Christ by any means, but our relationship with him has been an anchor when we’ve needed stability; it’s been a lighthouse, when we’ve needed to avoid danger in the darkness; he’s been our North star, when we’ve needed to reorient ourselves and figure out which direction to go. And he’s been our common root, which nourishes, renews, and empowers us from day to day. In other words, Christ is at the center of our relationship and we depend on him to lead and guide and empower our marriage.
To use the well-known metaphor of the cross, we have been seeking to cultivate both the vertical and horizontal dimensions of our relationship with God. The vertical dimension represents our personal relationship with God. It’s grounded in God’s love for us and in Jesus’ sacrificial act of love in dying for us. We respond by putting our trust in God’s grace and mercy and by accepting Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord. Then, in the horizontal dimension, we express our faith in Christ by extending God’s love and grace toward others. This Christ-centered, multi-dimensional spirituality is God’s will for our lives.
So, on this wedding day, fill your relationship with every kind of love, but especially agape love. Put Christ at the center of your marriage and family, and learn how to draw more and more on Christ’s Spirit so that you can offer God’s agape love and grace freely and generously to each other and to others around you.
If you will do these things, you’re going to make it. But far more than just make it, alongside all the mundane and difficult moments, your life together will flourish. It will be full of joy, meaning, and purpose in more ways than you can even imagine now. It will never be perfect, but there will be love, and there will be grace. May this be your marriage story now and for the rest of your lives. Amen.