Author Archives: Tim Geoffrion

Finding Jesus in the Darkness

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.)

ဘုရားသခင်ကောင်းချီးပေးပါစေ… (May God bless you.)

Amen.

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The Power of God’s Love

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.)

Amen.

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Power in Our Powerlessness

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.)

Amen.

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Light in the Darkness

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.

ကိုယ့်ကိုယ်ကို ဂရုစိုက်ပါ

May God bless you.

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For Whom Should a Christian Vote?

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

  1. 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).
  2. Be prayerful, discuss issues with other believers, and seek wisdom from God (e.g., Acts 15:6; James 1:4-7).
  3. 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).
  4. Don’t judge those who take a different position or who choose to vote differently than you (Rom. 14:1-4).
  5. 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).
  6. 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 to becoming 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.

Now, my position

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.

(Rom. 14:22-23, NRSV)

Copyright © 2020 Timothy C. Geoffrion, Wayzata, Minnesota. All rights reserved to the author, but readers may freely download, print, forward, or distribute to others, providing that this copyright notice is included.


Photo Credits:

  • Photo of President Donald Trump: Washington Post
  • Photo of Joe Biden: Michael Brochstein / Echoes Wire/ Barcroft Studios / Future Publishing

To learn about my most recent book, What We Can Expect from God Now: Seven Spiritual Truths for Trusting God in Troubled Times, you can read samples, see reviews, and order exclusively on Amazon. This full color, devotional book, filled with beautiful photos from France and US National Parks, was written specifically to encourage Christians during this COVID-19 pandemic.


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A Marriage Full of Love and Grace

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.


Copyright © 2020 Timothy C. Geoffrion, Wayzata, Minnesota. All rights reserved to the author, but readers may freely download, print, forward, or distribute to others, providing that this copyright notice is included.

Photo Credits:

  • Couple on their wedding day & Northern Minnesota- Timothy Clarence Geoffrion
  • Jill & Tim- Timothy Charles Geoffrion (thiswalkinglife.com)

To learn about my most recent book, What We Can Expect from God Now: Seven Spiritual Truths for Trusting God in Troubled Times, you can read samples, see reviews, and order exclusively on Amazon. This full color, devotional book, filled with beautiful photos from France and US National Parks, was written specifically to encourage Christians during this COVID-19 pandemic.

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What would Jesus do?

Seven steps you can take now.

In light of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, this series of posts explores how Jesus’s teaching and example call us to reach out across racial lines to respond compassionately to unjust suffering in society. 

Corner of 38th St. and Chicago Ave., S., Minneapolis

I started feeling emotion the moment I began walking up 38th Street. I could see the memorial site just ahead on the corner. Flowers, placards, graffiti, and personal notes were everywhere. There was so much to take in. I could feel the grief, rage, and despair hanging thickly in the air.

When I reached the place on the pavement, where George Floyd gasped for his final breaths, begging for his life and calling for his mama, tears came to my eyes. I could feel anger well up within me. This killing was so wrong. How could someone who was hired to “protect and serve” the community, callously, slowly, choke the life out of a subdued, handcuffed suspect, lying on the ground?  

The vast majority of police throughout the country do not harass, let alone kill, people of color; but the bad ones have given rise to fear, rage, and despair among many African Americans nationwide. Much of the graffiti and signage seethed with anger at the police.

Just to the north of where George died, well over a hundred names are painted in multi-colors on Chicago Avenue, memorials to black people who have died at the hands of police in recent years. George’s killing by a white policeman wasn’t the first time. Though such killings are relatively rare (according to statistics), what happened to him has happened to others. And the perception (rightly or not) of police bullying and brutal treatment was widespread enough to strike a nerve in urban communities across the country.

George’s now famous plea, “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe,” has become a rallying cry for black protesters. A recent New York Times article indicated that at least 70 other people of color over the past decade have died in police custody, crying out that they couldn’t breathe before they died. Songwriters, rappers, and activists throughout the country are saying, this is what it feels like to be black in America—we can’t breathe.

How many black people feel this way? What does the average black person feel when a police car drives by or when they are stopped on the road? I don’t think anybody really knows. It may not even be the majority of people of color, but it is a sizable minority. A 2015 Gallup poll indicates that more blacks, nationally, believe the police treat minorities fairly than unfairly, but the numbers are very close (52% vs. 48%, respectively).

These statistics should make us pause before demonizing the police or assuming that the police should be abolished, but we are still left with the question, why do 48% (+/- 5% for margin of error) of black people feel that the police treat minorities unfairly? And what could we, as a society, do to lower those numbers? What could any of us, as individuals, do to advocate better for those who do not have the power or opportunity to effectively advocate for themselves?

What would Jesus do?

The cultural context in Jesus’s day is not the same as today in America, and there is no one teaching or story that directly applies to the complex racial strife in America. However, as we have been saying in this series, there is material in the Gospels that pertain to racism and injustice.

In Jesus’s context, he was very concerned about the treatment of those with less power or status in society, those who were being neglected, exploited, or abused by others. Jesus did not offer systemic solutions to racism or social injustice, but, by his personal example and teaching, he provided a powerful witness to God’s compassion and concern for those at the so-called, “bottom” of society.

As another example (in addition to those we’ve already looked at), the story of Jesus and the two blind men speaks to God’s heart, values, and response to the needs of those who cry out in distress. Notice how Jesus’s behavior stands in contrast to the crowd.

There were two blind men sitting by the roadside. When they heard that Jesus was passing by, they shouted, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” The crowd sternly ordered them to be quiet; but they shouted even more loudly, “Have mercy on us, Lord, Son of David!” Jesus stood still and called them, saying, “What do you want me to do for you?” They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes. Immediately they regained their sight and followed him.

Matthew 20:30-34, NRSV

In glaring contrast to those who felt they had the power and position to silence the shouting men, Jesus actually cared and listened. He stopped in his tracks. He asked questions. He wanted to know what was wrong and how he could help. And when he heard what they had to say, he was moved by compassion. Then, he took action.

Seven practical steps you can take now

White people’s response to the protests and riots has ranged from sympathy to condemnation, but overall, my impression is that most of us (white people) care and want to help. In just Minneapolis, millions of dollars have poured into the hands of nonprofits seeking to rebuild burned out businesses and rally around black communities. Thousands of people have been volunteering to do clean up. However, at the same time, many of my white friends feel powerless to do anything of substance to address underlying issues. Sometimes, I feel that way, too.

Yet, as we grapple with how to respond to cries for justice, greater safety in black neighborhoods, and more equity and opportunity for people of color, Jesus’s compassionate response to human beings in need provides an example for us. While there are no easy, quick solutions, there are at least seven practical steps each of us can take now.

  1. Stop, look, and listen. Over and over again, I’m hearing pleas from black people to “see us.” In other words, African Americans are not asking white people to become “color-blind,” but to remember that when white people see a black face that that person’s experience has likely been quite different from theirs. Don’t assume you know what their experience is. If you don’t know whom to listen to, many inner-city organizations are very willing to talk with anyone who sincerely wants to hear the stories and perspective of blacks living in America.   
  2. Hang in there, without becoming defensive or judgmental. If you are listening to someone from a different cultural background, you are likely to be upset by something that person says. If you react harshly, turn them off, walk away, or jump right into trying to counter their point of view, you will be no further ahead. Keep listening. Stephen Covey famously advocated that we should “first seek to understand, then to be understood.”
  3. Learn about the issues from multiple perspectives. Don’t buy into one of the extreme narratives, whether it is police-bashing and assailing white supremacy (as if all whites are conspiring against black people), on one side; or putting all the blame on the minorities for their own problems (as if the only thing black people need to do is take more responsibility), on the other. The truth is always more complicated than broad caricatures and over-generalizations. And voicing the extreme narratives only fuels the fires of conflict.
  4. Let your compassion move you. If you’re not already grieving over the killings and struggles of African Americans, ask God to soften your heart. Consider their suffering with greater empathy. Feel more deeply. Think of the children.
  5. Be patient, but diligent. Making personal, let alone societal, progress will take time and a great deal of effort. The racial and social issues that are in sharp relief right now have been centuries in the making. Stay with the process of listening and learning. Ask God to show you what you need to see in yourself, in the other person, and in our society’s structures and systems. Get ready to make changes.
  6. Link arms with others. Find out who’s already doing good work on the street level to address social, educational, justice, and other human welfare needs. Seriously consider the merits of proposed policy changes in local and state government. There are countless opportunities to volunteer, donate money or materials, or simply stand up and be counted.
  7. Start somewhere. Don’t get stuck in analysis-paralysis or freeze up because you don’t know what to think or do. If you haven’t already starting engaging in practical ways, do something today, however small. Go beyond just feeling sorry for others and confessing your sins. Get involved.
On the sidewalk, across the street from where George was killed

I don’t have all the answers for myself, let alone for society as a whole. But, Jesus’s teaching and example are convicting me of my own unexplored racist attitudes and are motivating me to do more than I’ve been doing, relationally and financially. It’s a start. But only a start. From here, I plan to get a better handle on public policy and societal structures that may be inadvertently working against people of color. Then comes advocacy.

How about you? What’s your next step?


Copyright © 2020 Timothy C. Geoffrion, Wayzata, Minnesota. All rights reserved to the author, but readers may freely download, print, forward, or distribute to others, providing that this copyright notice is included.


Photo Credits:

  • Photos from George Floyd memorial and surrounding area, ©Timothy C. Geoffrion.
  • Photos of Men talking, nappy via pexels.

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Who is your neighbor?

In light of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, this series of posts explores how Jesus’s teaching and example call us to reach out across racial lines to respond compassionately to unjust suffering in society. 

Robbers beating the pilgrim (Good Samaritan window, Chartres Cathedral, France)

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

Luke 10:25-28, NIV

Accept God’s purpose for your life

In short, by reciting the two greatest commandments, Jesus was teaching us that God’s purpose for our lives is to know, love, and serve God with all of our being and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Love is the chief characteristic of God. Loving others is thus the hallmark of godliness (literally, god-likeness). This is our calling as followers of Jesus Christ.

Such a message is not hard to understand, intellectually, but living by this kind of love can be very difficult in practice. Why? Because we human beings tend to put ourselves or something else at the center of our universe instead of God (the Bible calls that, idolatry). Then, by nature, we are selfish and driven by all sorts of desires and impulses that run contrary to love. Even when we love those who love us, our “love” tends to be conditional, with strings attached. (I’ll love you, if…. I’ll continue to love you, as long as you….) But the moment we’re afraid, we’d rather do something else, we’re mistreated, or loving others becomes inconvenient or too costly, love can easily fly out the window.

So, not surprisingly, the religious leaders of Jesus day easily agreed with him about the priority of love, intellectually. But then they quickly sought ways to excuse themselves from actually putting love into practice when they didn’t want to do it.

The Pharisees question Jesus (Good Samaritan window, Chartres Cathedral, France)

But wanting to justify himself, [the religious lawyer] asked Jesus,

“And who is my neighbor?”

Luke 10:29, NIV

But Jesus was ready to close the loophole. He responded by telling the well-known parable of the Good Samaritan to put in no uncertain terms his answer.

Why the Samaritan is Good

When Jesus identifies the role model for Jewish people in the parable as a Samaritan, he is both (deliberately) offending them and challenging them to raise their standard for loving others in society. Jewish leaders in Jesus’s day looked down on Samaritans, who were a racially mixed people. Their religion was also a syncretistic blend of Judaism and pagan religions. After the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom of Israel (722 BC), most of the people were taken away into captivity. When they eventually returned, many had intermarried with the Assyrians. These racially mixed people became known as Samaritans. They were rejected by the so-called, pure-blood Jewish people from the southern kingdom (Judah).

By choosing a Samaritan as the hero of the parable, Jesus is making at least three points, which have relevance to us today in working to mitigate racism and create a more just society.

Who pleases God?

Not those who have the “right” color of skin

But those who have compassion on those in need, who show mercy and kindness to those who don’t deserve it or who can’t repay them

Who is our neighbor?

Not just those of our own color, tribe, or race

But anyone in our society, especially those who have been victimized, exploited, or mistreated by others, or who may simply need an extra helping hand

How far are we expected to go?

Not only as much as is comfortable or convenient

But as far as necessary to adequately address the needs and suffering in society

Love is not just a warm, fuzzy feeling, or cute emoji. Showing mercy costs us something. The two religious leaders, no doubt, could have preached wonderful sermons on love and the God of mercy. But when it came to addressing real-life, human needs in their society, they crossed to the other side of the road and just walked on by. In glaring contrast, the Samaritan paid for the beaten man’s medical, housing, and food expenses out of his own pocket. He took time away from his business. He planned to check back in to see if there was more he could, if he hadn’t done enough the first time.

The Samaritan cares for the beaten man (Good Samaritan Window, Chartres)

Hot and cold racism

My Apple dictionary defines racism as “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against a person or people on the basis of their membership in a particular racial or ethnic group, typically one that is a minority or marginalized.”

This definition does a good job highlighting what I call “hot” racism— outright, overt hostility or aggression toward a different race or person of a different color. Everyone knows what that looks, sounds, and feels like. In my experience, most white people don’t act like that.

However, as sociologists Robin DiAngelo and Michael Dyson point out in their thought-provoking, insightful book, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism (2018), by only defining racism in extreme terms, we easily fail to recognize our own, underlying racist attitudes and behavior.

In other words, there is also what I call “cold” racism. Cold racism is far more subtle and difficult to detect, even in ourselves. Cold racism can simply be apathy or preoccupation with the concerns of one’s own family, tribe, or group to the neglect of others who don’t fit in with us, for various reasons. For example, to ignore the cries of black people for greater justice, or to refuse to seriously consider ways that our society favors white people over minorities is to be complicit with racism. DiAngelo’s and Dyson’s book provides numerous, convicting examples.

This essay barely scratches the surface of the kinds of changes needed in our society, since I’m focusing on the individual. But one very good place to start is for each of us (including me) to become more self-aware of our implicit biases and to be a whole lot more humble about how we might be unwittingly contributing to racial discrimination and injustice.

Spiritual Application

Let’s be honest. Like the well-educated, sincerely religious, lawyer in Jesus’s day, most of us would prefer to justify our own way of living and acting rather than do much more than make a contribution, read a few articles, and watch news shows. Many of us would rather spiel off all our good deeds and righteous behavior than do the soul-searching work to examine our deepest attitudes toward minorities. We would rather just be outraged or find reasons to congratulate our progressiveness than ask ourselves, “Am I truly loving my neighbor to the extent Jesus calls for?”

Jesus answer to the Pharisee’s attempt to justify his inhospitality and neglect of people in need was clear: Your neighbor is precisely the person you may least want to reach out to, and probably has done nothing to deserve your help. Loving him or her is going to cost you more than you want to give, and is likely to take more of your time and energy than is convenient.

The Good Samaritan does not offer a role model for working for systemic change, something essential for real change in America. Yet he does offer a concrete example of a godly (God-like) attitude toward those who are disadvantaged, suffering from racial discrimination, injustice, or just “different” from us. It’s called compassion. And when we put it into action, it’s called mercy.

[Jesus said,] Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” [The expert in the Jewish Law] said, “The one who showed him mercy.”

Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Luke 10:36-37, NRSV

Who is your neighbor?

The full text of the parable of the Good Samaritan

But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, ‘Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.’ Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Luke 10:29-37, NRSV

Copyright © 2020 Timothy C. Geoffrion, Wayzata, Minnesota. All rights reserved to the author, but readers may freely download, print, forward, or distribute to others, providing that this copyright notice is included.


Photo Credit:

  • Photos from Chartres Cathedral, copyright ©Jill Geoffrion, www.jillgeoffrion.com. Used with permission.
  • Photo of man, Leroy Skalstad via unsplash

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What would Jesus say?

In light of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, this series of posts explores how Jesus’s teaching and example call us to reach out across racial lines to respond compassionately to unjust suffering in society. 

Memorial for George Floyd, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Since George Floyd’s murder by a white policeman in Minneapolis and the ensuing protests and riots, I have felt overwhelmed with emotions and questions. I have been reading articles and editorials every day. I have been listening to blacks and whites talking, preaching, warning, advising, and arguing about racism and injustice in America. I have been watching troubling documentaries and historically-based movies on the history of race relations, law enforcement, and the justice system in recent years.

It’s not just what’s being said or portrayed that’s making me feel so upset. It’s the underlying reality of widespread disparities between whites and blacks, and a whole set of troubling societal issues, stemming from years of slavery followed by 135 years of (at times) improving, yet often pitiable, treatment of African-Americans in my country. Intelligent people are fiercely debating causes and responsibility, as they should be. But, at this point, I’m more concerned with what is actually going to produce meaningful change?

So much is needed to reduce racism and create a more just society; but here, for a moment, let’s step back from the intense emotion of these issues–not to diminish our passion to thoroughly understand what is going on, what has led to this point, and to eliminate racial discrimination. Our passion for these goals should increase, not decrease. However, at the same time, as followers of Christ, we also need to create enough space to let the Holy Spirit bring some needed, fresh perspective to us from the Bible.

What would Jesus say about all this?

The parable of the sheep and the goats

A scene of Christ in Majesty at the Last Judgment in a fresco in the Orthodox Monastery of Saint John the Baptist in Tolleshunt Knights, Essex.

In Matthew 25, Jesus references the great Judgment Day, when the Son of Man (a reference to himself, God’s messiah, who will ultimately rule the world) will separate the “sheep” from the “goats.” The sheep, on his right hand, will inherit the Kingdom of God. The goats, on his left, will be cursed and sentenced to eternity in Hell, along with the devil and his angels.

If you’re not accustomed to this kind of preaching, Jesus was employing a popular way in his day to get people’s attention. The rhetoric was stark, frightening, and powerful, based on a core theological conviction found in all Western religious traditions: those who do what is right in God’s eyes will be rewarded. Those who do not will face eternal punishment.

And what will be the basis for judgment?

To the sheep, the King will say:

‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’

Matt. 25:34-36, NRSV

When the perplexed righteous ask when they had ever done these things for him, Jesus will explain:

‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

Matthew 25:40, NRSV

See God in Jesus

By talking in this way, Jesus is telling us something very important about God and about what God expects from us, his creation. He’s saying, God cares deeply about human suffering, and those who want to please God will, too. Or, else.

Christians know from the full teaching of the Bible that we cannot save ourselves, by our own good deeds, but only by faith in Jesus Christ. However, especially in the context of Matthew’s Gospel, we also know that true believers are called to live righteously, which means, above all, to show love to others in concrete ways. And not just toward our families and people we like or who love us. Jesus taught that we’re to love everyone, even our enemies.

Jesus, himself, showed us what this kind of non-discriminatory love looks like. For example, he identified with the poor and marginalized in ways that contradicted the dominant views of his day. By associating with the “least” (not least in God’s eyes, but those who hold the lowest status in society), and by welcoming and treating everyone (except the hypocritical authorities) with respect and kindness, Jesus provides a basis for dignity and self-respect for even the most discouraged, downtrodden person.

Then, he was killed. Jesus was crucified, because he dared to stand up for those who could not stand up for themselves, and to fulfill the will of God that he die for the sins of the world. By God’s mysterious design, Jesus’s ignominious death wound up simultaneously judging humankind’s self-serving, unjust ways and showing us the breathtaking extent of God’s love.

In Jesus, we see who God is and what god-likeness (godliness) looks like in a social context. God is just, in condemning discrimination, exploitation, and neglect of the needy; and God is loving, kind, and merciful, in welcoming and caring for those who cry out to him for forgiveness and help in their time of need.

See Jesus in “others”

Holmesburg Prison, Philadelphia, PA

I met Kevin T. at Holmesburg maximum security prison in Philadelphia, which was officially closed in 1995, after decades of abusive and exploitative treatment of prisoners. I was only 23 years old, serving as a part time prison chaplain, while studying at Princeton Theological Seminary. Looking back, I realize I really didn’t know what I was doing. But I cared. I wanted to do something. I was willing to learn and to try.

Kevin was also a young man, but his future outlook was far different than mine. He was serving a life sentence, for murder. I had never met a murderer before. I didn’t know what to expect. What was both comforting and disturbing was that Kevin seemed rather normal. As I got to know him I could see his humanity. I could feel our brotherhood, in spite of his crimes.

One day, I drove my old Catalina across town to search for his parents. I knocked on the door of an old, two story building, in a dilapidated part of town. It suddenly dawned on me that I was the only white person on the block, and probably in the whole neighborhood. Peering down at a scrap of paper with an address scrawled on it, I silently prayed that I was in the right place.

When the door opened, I introduced myself and was taken to a big open room in the back. I’ll never forget the shock and the deep, deep sadness that I saw in the eyes of Kevin’s father. He was hunched over a table, surrounded by maybe a dozen family members. They weren’t expecting me. They weren’t expecting anyone like me, ever.

In that first awkward moment, I didn’t really know what I was doing there. I just wanted to show that I cared and wanted to help their son, if I could. Fortunately, they quickly welcomed me and invited me to sit and talk. It turned out, they didn’t want anything more from me. My visit was enough.

Spiritual Application

The parable of the sheep and goats challenges us to think carefully about who we think God is, where we find him, and what God expects of followers of Jesus in a world full of suffering and need, racial discrimination and injustice.  

In the parable, Jesus doesn’t focus on who’s to blame for social problems. He doesn’t analyze why some people are poor, some are in prison, others are hungry, etc., as if we should first decide if someone is worthy of our help before caring or taking action. No, Jesus teaches us to first respond to “others” with compassion, mercy, and kindness, as if we were caring for Jesus himself.

Kevin deserved to be in prison. It was a just sentence. But when I visited him, and when I visited his grief-stricken parents, I experienced God’s loving presence through the encounters. I felt it. They felt it. And the racial barriers began melting away.

I learned, what I have experienced hundreds of times since, that when we get over our fears and prejudices to reach out to those who are different from us, from a place of genuine love and respect, beautiful things often happen. When we give of ourselves to someone in Jesus’s name, we often find that Jesus is already there.

Next week: It’s time.


For those wishing to read the full parable.

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. … Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Matthew 25:31-46, NRSV

Copyright © 2020 Timothy C. Geoffrion, Wayzata, Minnesota. All rights reserved to the author, but readers may freely download, print, forward, or distribute to others, providing that this copyright notice is included.


Photo Credits:

  • George Flyod Memorial, Lucas Jackson – Reuters
  • The Last Judgement, from the Orthodox Monastery of Saint John the Baptist in Tolleshunt Knights, Essex.
  • Arms stretched to each other, austin-kehmeier via unsplash

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What God Expects from Us Now

In light of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, this series of posts explores how Jesus’s teaching and example call us to reach out across racial lines to respond compassionately to unjust suffering in society. 

Minneapolis rioters burn businesses

I can’t get the image out of mind. On May 25, a white, Minneapolis policeman calmly kneels on the neck of a face-down, handcuffed, black man…until he is dead.

In the days that followed, Minneapolis was set on fire. While peaceful protestors marched in the street and set up memorials, violent ones started burning down buildings, smashing windows, blowing up cars, and looting businesses. And the protests spread throughout the country, and then globally.

For several days, I kept watching the endless stream of video clips of the murder and violence on social media. I’ve been horrified at all the destruction and lawlessness, and distressed, witnessing police shoving and tear-gassing protestors. I can’t watch any of these videos anymore. They are all too disturbing.

What’s going on? How could such a brazen murder by a uniformed policeman of a black man, in broad daylight, happen? Why did this killing ignite protests and riots across the country so rapidly? What kind of response would actually be helpful, rather than our usual reactivity, which tends to reinforce our biases, justify the status quo, or, worse, actually inflame the polarization and conflict?

For the past two months, I’ve been writing essays on the topic, “What can we expect from God now?” In light of the recent murder, extensive violence, and widespread protests, it’s time to turn that question around. What does God expect from us now?

Minneapolis, Minnesota (USA)

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;

and what does the LORD require of you

but to do justice, and to love kindness,

and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8, NRSV

In the eighth century B.C.E., Micah, the prophet, wrote unsparing words of judgment against widespread idolatry, exploitation, oppression, and other unjust practices of the privileged, powerholders in ancient Israel. In one of the most well-known verses in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), he sums up God’s righteous expectations with the three fold answer to the question, “What does the LORD require of you?” He simply says:

  • do justice
  • love kindness, and
  • walk humbly with your God.

When black people and their allies march in the streets, they are shouting out for justice. They are screaming their outrage. They want the world to hear their stories. They are calling out to people with power and privilege, whom they believe could to do something to help, to actually do something. And when peaceful protests devolve into violence, looting, and arson, white people need to go beyond judging the external behavior to see and feel the depth of the rioters’ hopelessness, rage, and grief.

The issue is not just one abominable murder. And it’s not simply about a corrupt police force, as if there would be no problem of crime or violence if only the police were better people. There are thousands of really good, sincere, hardworking, dedicated police in America; and there are some very racist, violent, corrupt ones, too. Significant improvements are needed in training and law enforcement, but that’s not the whole solution. The issue is also not about law and order, that is, the need to deal firmly with violent criminals who are serious threats to society. There are many criminals, of all colors, who need to be stopped; but controlling all the lawbreakers isn’t going to provide more opportunity, respect, and justice to people who are routinely demeaned, mistrusted, and mistreated just because of the color of their skin or racial/ethnic background.

No, the issue at hand, as I see it, is a whole society blighted by a spiritual disease of the heart (racism, self-interest, blindness to injustice) that keeps manifesting itself at the expense of those with the least power to defend themselves or to right the wrongs. All human beings, of all colors and backgrounds, have that disease to some extent (biblical writers call it, “sin”). Yet, what those of us in position to ensure justice and provide mercy must understand better is that those who suffer the most from this societal sin tend to be people of color, at least in the United States.

They and their allies are right to take to the streets. They are not right to destroy other people’s property, but they are right to protest, call for reform, and even scream as loud as they can. And if whites–those of us in positions of power and privilege—don’t listen, the screams will get louder. And should.

Minneapolis deployed the National Guard

Spiritual Application

Micah’s moral instruction was for the whole community. Justice, loving kindness, and humble submission to God is the calling for all of us, rich or poor, powerful or powerless, white, black, brown, or any color, race, or ethnic group we might be. It’s what God expects from everyone. Each of us has to determine for ourselves what that means in our contexts. Sometimes, the application is obvious. Other times, it takes a crisis to wake us up. We’re there now.

As a follower of Christ, how does your faith apply to blight of racism and injustice? Are you looking deeply into your heart and at your own attitudes and behavior? Are you asking the Holy Spirit to show you where you have harbored racist, indifferent, or even hateful feelings toward those who have a different skin color or ethnic background? Or, are you using most of your energy reacting to the extremists and defending yourself, as if proving that you’re not as bad as some people accuse you of being means that you are actually innocent and not responsible to try to do more to help?

I am not speaking from on high, but as a privileged white person who was raised in a highly racist environment. Even as an adult, pastor, and Christian leader, I confess that at times I have shamefully nurtured prejudice against others whom I did not understand or was afraid of. I don’t have all the answers for myself, let alone for our broken church and society. Racism and injustice are huge, deep-seated problems, without obvious or easy fixes. But I am sorry. I’m sorry for all the ways I’ve contributed to the problem and have failed to take action to right the wrongs when I could have done something.

Since I witnessed George’s murder on video, I’ve been wracking my brain, trying to think about what difference I could make. I don’t know yet. But I do know this. It’s not going to be just one thing. It’s got to start with a real change of heart and attitude toward others who are different from me. And the internal changes have to translate into external action. Action that translates into tangible benefit for those who are suffering from racial discrimination, exploitation, mistreatment, and lack of compassion and empathy. That’s what the prophets, like Micah, called for when they preached repentance to people in positions of power and privilege.

It’s what God expects.

Next week: What would Jesus say about all this?


Copyright © 2020 Timothy C. Geoffrion, Wayzata, Minnesota. All rights reserved to the author, but readers may freely download, print, forward, or distribute to others, providing that this copyright notice is included.

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