Category Archives: Hope

Coping Better with Unwanted Change: Four Steps to Greater Peace and Joy (Step 4)

We’ve been talking about a four-step restorative process to help you cope better with unwanted change or loss in your life. Once you can see and accept what you’ve lost or cannot change (Steps 1-2) and have started to appreciate your remaining blessings and opportunities (Step 3), you will experience more peace and joy. But there’s still another step.

Hiking through the Swiss Alps

Step 4: “Delight”

Trust in the LORD and do good;

dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.

Take delight in the LORD,

and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Psalm 37:3-4 (NIV)

What do you take delight in? What are the desires of your heart?

For me, I love my birthday, which I just celebrated last week. As usual, I took the day off from work to do whatever I felt like doing, all day long. I went out for breakfast, spent hours interacting with well-wishers on Facebook, reflected on my life and future, read something I was very interested in, celebrated with my family, and, of course, ate ice cream!

But birthday delights, holidays, Friday night dates, lazy Sunday afternoons, and other special times are the spice of life for me, not the main course. In the right measure, the little (or big) treats in life bring me a lot of joy. Too much of them, and they lose their specialness. If I try to take too much from them, they can become like idols—alluring and wonderfully distracting from weights and responsibilities, but lacking sufficient nutrition for my psychological, physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. If my delights become addictions, they become my masters and can even slowly destroy my life or the lives of others.

From Scripture, we learn that God gave us many wonderful things in nature, in our beloved relationships, in our vocations, and in many other aspects of our lives. They are God’s gifts to us, and key ingredients to living fully and joyfully. God wants us to delight in them, providing that our greatest love is for our Creator God. If we keep this relationship first in our hearts, then then rest of our desires, delights, and loves will fall into their proper places, in the right proportions.

When I was teenager, I thought that these verses in Psalm 37 meant that if you put God first in your life (“delight in the LORD”), then God would give you whatever you most want (“the desires of your heart”)—perhaps a lovely spouse, riches, property, good friends, fun experiences, etc. etc. But one day it dawned on me that there may be a more profound way to view this promise. Instead of interpreting these verses as describing something transactional (if you do this, then God will do that), the process may actually be transformational (if you do this, then your heart and mind will be changed, leading to an entirely new set of desired outcomes).

When the Psalmist says, “delight in the LORD,” he is not talking about saying or doing something just to try to win God’s favor to get something from God. Rather, he’s saying, genuinely take pleasure in your relationship with God, just as Jesus taught us to do when he said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37). Then, the more your heart’s desire is genuinely to know, love, and serve God with all your being, the more you will want what God wants for you, i.e., to live righteously (or justly) and to do good, or in Jesus’ words, to “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:38). Delighting in your Creator God leads to delighting in fulfilling God’s good purposes for your life. And when you think and feel this way, the greatest joy and privilege God could ever give you would be to enable you to know, love, and serve God even better, and to receive more opportunities to let God love others through you.

For me, delighting in God includes taking time to appreciate all that God has done in creation and in my life. As a minister and professor, it also translates to spending most days happily teaching, researching, writing, coaching, praying for or with others, mentoring, and trying to help or encourage those who cross my path. As a married man with children, delighting in God and God’s calling on my life also means loving my wife and family as best I can.

I’m deeply grateful for the life that God has given me and for the ways Christ has inspired and called me to worship, serve, and love. Even with all the suffering, loss, and difficulties I and my family have had to endure over the years, putting God and Christ at the center of my heart and priorities has given me great meaning, purpose, peace, and joy, which I could not have found in the same way otherwise.

For you, delighting in God first may look different than it does for me, because you have your own relationship with God and Christ, and unique calling. But the spiritual principle is true for all those who can accept it, and the result of ordering your life in this way (greater peace and joy) will be the same: When you choose to delight in God and let God transform your heart’s desires to match God’s desires, God will surely give you the desires of your heart.

In Practice

By now, you should be experiencing the fruit of working through the first three steps: See, Accept, and Appreciate. But don’t stop there. Make a conscious decision to move toward finding and doing more things that delight you. And start with God.

If you’re ready to take the fourth step, reflect on the following questions.

  • Where are you looking for pleasure, peace, and joy from day to day?
  • How well does what you delight in line up with what God wants you to delight in?
  • What would it look like for you if you delighted more in God and God’s good purposes for your life?
  • If your heart’s desire matched God’s desire for you more closely, how would you order your life differently? What would you be praying for?

Bottom line: You can make a lot of progress toward greater peace and joy in your life by seeing, accepting, and appreciating. But the most important step of them all is Step 4: “Delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

Suggested prayer: “Loving God, I want what you want for me and my life. Please teach me to delight in you, and transform the desires of my heart to match yours.”

Next week: The conclusion to this series of articles with more practical suggestions for how to move through the four steps to greater peace and joy in your life

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Coping Better with Unwanted Change: Four Steps to Greater Peace and Joy (Step 3)

By now, if you’ve been working through Steps 1 and 2, you know how hard it can be sometimes to face the truth about something you don’t want to be true. Even when you think you’ve accepted whatever you’ve lost or the burden you must carry, sometimes the old feelings of resentment, anger, or sadness can come surging back without notice. At such times, you may wonder if you’re ever going to heal or be able to let it go. This kind of regression is fairly common in my experience, but over time, the pain will diminish, and new life will begin to bud and then blossom once again.

Taking Step 3 can help.

Swiss Alps

Step 3: “Appreciate”

Then Jesus said to [Bartimaeus], “What do you want me to do for you?”

The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again. Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

Mark 10:51-52, NRSV

The story of Bartimaeus is about seeing one’s need, reaching out to Jesus for help, experiencing healing and transformation, and setting out on a new path. It’s not a formula for how to experience a miracle, but a testimony about someone who lived in blindness and despair whose faith led to regaining his sight and infusing his life with new meaning and purpose. “Immediately he regained his sight and followed [Jesus] on the way.”

As I struggled with accepting that the doors had slammed shut for me to return to Myanmar, I didn’t want to get over it, at first. I felt sorry for myself, and I didn’t want to imagine a new life or start a new ministry. I wanted the old one back. Yet, over time, as I began to accept reality more and more, I became less willing to stay stuck in my misery and more ready to notice and appreciate what I had gained in place of what I had lost.

For example, I began to see that not being able to travel abroad due to safety concerns was giving me more time with my family, and I loved it. Since I was now stationed in Minneapolis, I was now free to regularly conduct webinars on multiple continents, in Asia, Africa, and North America, sometimes all in the same week. Meanwhile, the crises brought a demand for me to write articles and a book, which were eventually translated into several languages for distribution in several countries. My point is, none of this would have happened if I hadn’t been forced to stop traveling abroad, and if I hadn’t been willing to look for, notice, and appreciate the silver linings, blessings, and new opportunities that were coming my way.

I am not suggesting that acceptance implies being thankful for every loss or unwanted change. Some things in life are so painful or downright evil that you can only grieve them. What I’m saying is that the restorative process requires not only opening your eyes to see the truth about your situation (Step 1). It also entails accepting what you can’t change (Step 2) while simultaneously opening your eyes to see beyond what you’ve lost to appreciate how God is still at work in your life for good (Step 3).

In Practice

According to the dictionary, the word “appreciate” means “recognizing the full worth of” something or someone. When you allow yourself to stay consumed with your negative emotional reactions to your circumstances or to annoying or burdensome people, there won’t be much room for peace and joy in your life. If instead, you open your eyes to appreciate (“recognize the full worth of) all the love, resources, opportunities, and gifts that are also part of your life, then you will experience a positive shift in your attitude and feelings.

However, to move from acceptance to appreciation, sometimes we need help. Bartimaeus asked Jesus to open his eyes, because he knew he was blind and that he couldn’t restore his sight on his own. Likewise, you may have reached the point where you want to believe there is hope for your future, but you just can’t see any. Here’s where good friends, pastors, counselors, and prayer can be immensely helpful. You don’t have to heal yourself on your own. You need to want to move forward and to be willing to get the help you need. You need to keep believing that God has not abandoned you and keep asking the Holy Spirit to help you to see what you cannot see (or appreciate) on your own.

Since experiencing your loss or unwanted change…

  • Who has come into your life or is contributing to your life in a new way?
  • How have you changed (in your heart, attitude, values, or priorities), for the better, because of how you have suffered?
  • What new clarity has emerged or is emerging?
  • What doors have opened to you (new opportunities)?
  • How do you sense God leading or calling you to something you highly value?

Bottom line: Self-pity or endless grief will only increase your sense of isolation, loss, or burden, while simultaneously blinding you to the very people and resources that you most need and value. Focus, instead, on what God is doing in your life for good and see where that takes you.

Suggested prayer: “Loving God, open my eyes that I may see all the good that you’re doing in me, and want to do through me.”

“Open My Eyes that I May See”

(Hymn by Clara Scott)

Open my eyes that I may see

Glimpses of truth thou hast for me.

Place in my hands the wonderful key

That shall unclasp and set me free.

Silently now I wait for thee,

Ready, my God, thy will to see.

Open my eyes, illumine me,

Spirit divine!

Next week, Step 4: “Delight.” Peace and joy are real possibilities for those who learn to delight in God’s blessings once again.

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Coping Better with Unwanted Change: Four Steps to Greater Peace and Joy (Step 2)

To help you cope better with unwanted loss, change, or burden in your life, the four steps in this restorative process provide a road map to greater peace and joy. The timetable can range from minutes, days, months, to even years in some cases. Don’t try to rush the process. If your head and heart can move in concert with one other, the process will work better.   

In Step 1, we looked at the importance of fully seeing the truth about whatever you’re going through. Feel your feelings. Assess and name what is real about your circumstances. Let yourself grieve, as ancient Israel did when forced into exile to Babylon. Then it’s time for acceptance.

Descending a treacherous path in the Swiss Alps

Step 2: “Accept”

Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles

whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:

Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce.

Take wives and have sons and daughters;

…multiply there, and do not decrease.

But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile,

and pray to the LORD on its behalf,

for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

Jeremiah 29:4-7, NRSV

In these verses, Jeremiah is telling the exiles to accept that they were not going to go back to their homeland any time soon, and to start acting accordingly. They should build houses, have children, plant gardens, and even pray for the well-being of their new city (no doubt on the theory that if their new city prospered, so would they). It was time to move on, mentally, emotionally, and physically, and to start rebuilding their lives in their new location. This is what true acceptance looks like in practice. We let go of the emotional weight we’ve been carrying and controlled by, and start acting in ways that enable us to create a better future for ourselves.

As I was grappling with the shock and trauma from what was happening in Myanmar, I had to accept that there was nothing I could do to protect my students, colleagues, and friends there. I had to accept that frustrating, substandard, online courses (due to terrible internet issues) was the new normal for education there, at least for now, and that something was better than nothing for the young people feeling hopeless about their future. I also needed to let go of many of the relationships that had been important to me when I lived in country. It just hasn’t been possible to keep them going, long distance. And then my church, where I often preached twice a month, closed permanently. I will never preach, teach, or serve that congregation again. In fact, I might never be able to return to Myanmar in person, ever.

All this loss was hard to see, let alone accept, at first. Yet, accepting what I could not change was critical to my ability to preserving my sanity and redirecting my attention to something more constructive. I focused my attention and channeled my energy into my writing and online webinars. I consciously let go of my irrational belief that I had to stay in emotional turmoil to be supportive, and accepted my new circumstances. While I did not choose to be in this place of trying to serve Myanmar from thousands of miles away, the more I accepted the change as something outside my control and focused on what I could realistically accomplish, the more peace I felt. It was freeing and energizing at the same time.

In practice

What truth have you known for a while, but now need to accept? What might open to you, if you let go of your preoccupation with what you’ve lost and cannot recover?  

Acceptance doesn’t mean denying, minimizing, or rushing past your pain and distress. Whatever anger, resentment, bitterness, frustration, self-pity, or any other emotional reaction that has been consuming you takes time to work through. But the more you see these reactions as holding you back rather than helping you cope, the sooner you may be ready to let them go. Somewhere in the process, acceptance also means admitting to yourself that sometimes you cannot undo or fix something that is lost or broken. It’s not necessarily a weakness or failure on your part to accept your limitations. It’s actually a strength. When you find the courage to face and accept whatever truth you need to face, you will naturally shift your focus to what you can do, as opposed to what you cannot. You will start to see the opportunities that are present for you, and your motivation to pursue them will start to rise.

This week’s questions for reflection are these:

  • What troublesome turn of events, inconvenient truth, or unwanted change do you need to accept as a fact?
  • What would acceptance look like for you, in action? That is, if you really said goodbye to what was lost, what would you do differently? How would you invest your thinking, energy, and time?
  • How could you move toward building your home, developing new relationships, planting a garden, and blessing your new circumstances, as Jeremiah instructed the ancient Israelites to do?

Bottom line: Acceptance means letting go of your emotional turmoil related to your unwanted circumstances and looking forward once again.

Suggested Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” (Reinhold Niebuhr)

Next week, Step 3: “Appreciate.” Accepting what you cannot change sets the stage for moving to the next step, where you will discover many possibilities for experiencing greater joy and satisfaction.

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Coping Better with Unwanted Change: Four Steps to Greater Peace and Joy (Step 1)

What unwanted change is wreaking havoc in your life right now? Maybe it’s a significant loss—you were fired, someone you loved died or left you, or you’re grappling with an unexpected financial setback or liability. Maybe you received a frightening diagnosis, or you are struggling with an ongoing illness or disability. Maybe it’s an upsetting situation (or person) that you can’t avoid, such as an unreasonable boss, a troublesome neighbor, or a forced move and undesirable change of location. Whatever it may be, how are you handling it?

I’ve always been a glass-half-full kind of person. I believe in the power of positive thinking. Yet, how can you be upbeat when your life suddenly changes dramatically for the worse? How can you get past all the inner turmoil when you’ve lost so much or continually have to deal with a person or situation that you hate but can’t get away from?   

In this multi-part series, I’m going to share four steps that have been very helpful to me when I have felt heart-broken, frustrated, disappointed, sorry for myself, or any number of other negative emotions due to some unwanted change, circumstance, or person in my life. These insights first came to me many years ago when wrestling with painful relational issues when my family and I walked across northern Spain on the Camino in 2006. Over time, I’ve come to see that the same “4 Steps to Loving A Hard to Love Person” (See, Accept, Appreciate, and Delight) also provide a pathway to coping better with any unwanted change in my life. These steps may take a great deal of time to work through, but when taken thoughtfully and prayerfully, they have proven very helpful in getting unstuck mentally and emotionally in a wide variety of difficult situations. In this post, we’ll look at just the first step in this process.

Step 1: “See”

By the rivers of Babylon—

there we sat down and there we wept

when we remembered Zion.

Psalm 137:1 (NRSV)

When ancient Israel suddenly found themselves as captives in Babylon in 586 BC, they had to grapple with incredible losses—the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem (Zion), their forced exile from their home country, and the collapse of their lives as they knew them. We can’t go back to reconstruct all the ways they handled this tragedy, but can infer from the text that, instead of putting their heads in the sand (e.g., by believing false prophets who tried to give them false hope of returning to Judah), the exiles saw the situation for what it was, faced the awful truth, and let themselves feel the emotional weight of their losses. “By the rivers of Babylon—there we sat down and there we wept….” Such grief was bitter, but it was also an important step toward moving forward.

However, for many of us, when we experience great loss or are suddenly forced to cope with frightening or overwhelming burdens, instead of facing the truth as the Israelites did, we get stuck in nonproductive, emotional turmoil. We may walk around in a daze or even in denial of what’s happened, or our fight-flight-freeze instincts may trigger an intense emotional response that either ties us up in knots on the inside or pushes us to act in unhelpful or even hurtful ways.

That’s what was happening to me for much of 2021. After 13 years of (in-person) teaching in Myanmar, the doors suddenly slammed shut in my face, when the military seized power in a coup-d’état on February 1. My school suspended all classes, the country began its ongoing slide into disarray, and it became no longer safe for me to return. Then there was the daily trauma from continual reports of imprisonment, beatings, or killing of protestors, doctors, journalists, political opponents of the regime, and even some of my students. Houses were burned to the ground and hundreds of thousands fled to the jungles to survive.

All this felt overwhelming and too difficult to fully face. For months, I felt almost panicky about my powerlessness to help them. I felt guilty that I wasn’t doing more, yet I could never identify what I could do differently. And so, instead of coming to grips with reality, I lived in a perpetual state of anxiety on their behalf, as if sharing their distress and desperation would somehow prove that I wasn’t abandoning them in their hour of need. The truth was, I was so caught up in my unexamined, emotional reaction that I couldn’t realistically assess the situation. I was stuck in my emotional turmoil, carrying a burden that wasn’t helpful to me or anyone else.

In practice

How about you? Where are you being held prisoner by your emotional reactions? What do you need to see more clearly about whatever you’re grappling with?

  • What did you lose or what burden has been placed on your shoulders that you did not choose and do not want?
  • What is the clearest, most accurate, description of what happened or is happening?
  • If you could name it, in a word or two, what would you call what happened to you?
  • How is this [unwanted situation] affecting you emotionally, physically, relationally, and spiritually?
  • What is your best realistic assessment of the implications of this change for your future?

Even if it takes more time than you’d like to be able to answer these questions clearly, don’t give up until you get enough emotional distance to accurately assess your situation. Be patient with yourself, but don’t give up. The goal is to be able to make good decisions about your future based on the truth instead of being held prisoner to your emotional reactions or a distorted picture of reality.

Here is one short prayer that I created many years ago continues to be helpful to me whenever I’m in emotional turmoil and can’t seem to see clearly. Perhaps it will help you, too.

“Loving God, please help me to see whatever I need to see. Give me courage to face the truth, and wisdom and strength to act on whatever you reveal.”

Next week, Step 2: “Accept,” the next critical step toward recovering your inner peace and joy.

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Look Up for Hope

I lift up my eyes to the hills—

from where will my help come?

My help comes from the LORD,

who made heaven and earth.

The LORD will not let your foot be moved…

The LORD will keep you from all evil;

he will keep your life.

The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in

from this time on and forevermore.

From Psalm 121

These are amazing words of inspiration and hope, but are they true? What does such faith mean for those who are traumatized and brutalized by others, such as the people of Myanmar, where thousands of people have had to flee for their lives into the jungle since the political upheaval began in 2021? How does the psalmist’s confidence apply to those whose homes have been burned to the ground? What sense do these assurances make to the families of those who have been beaten, tortured, or killed?

For years I struggled with such broad promises of the LORD’s protection and help in the face of so much exploitation and abuse of the vulnerable around the world. To trust in God’s deliverance sometimes seems ridiculous when so many suffer and die at the hands of evil doers. I’ve heard many testimonies of people who have experienced God’s miraculous help, yet other people of faith are never rescued by God.

At the same time, in spite of gut-wrenching experiences and unanswered questions, my faith in God has been indispensable and life-giving to me. God’s unconditional love, acceptance, and forgiveness have provided a powerful source of self-acceptance and daily hope. Jesus Christ’s resurrection gives me hope that someday there will be justice, if not in this life then in the next. God’s presence in my life motivates me to become the kind of man God wants me to be for my family and for my community. My experience of God’s love and grace fills me with more compassion and mercy for those who are weak and vulnerable, people who need to experience the light of Jesus Christ and the love of God through a fellow human being. Even though I can’t fully understand why God allows so many to suffer so horribly, I am deeply grateful for all that God has done in my life and in the lives of so many other people who have similarly reached out to God and put their faith In Jesus.

So how should we interpret assurances of God’s help and deliverance like we find in Psalm 121? Was every Israelite saved from evil, as the Psalmist declared? Certainly not. But the Hebrew writer was not a fool. He knew that even those with great faith in the LORD sometimes fall victim to evil and injustice. Everyone suffers in some way, and some day, each of us will die, no matter how many times we might be saved from a premature demise.

Yet, the psalmist is not offering words that are out of touch with reality, but ones that offer hope in the midst of our suffering. He provides guidance not so that we can live in denial or flee into fantasy, but so that we might find spiritual resources to face and cope with whatever is overwhelming us. He speaks in hyperbole and metaphor to inspire the people to lift their eyes from focusing on their troubles so that they might see what God sees and reach out for what only God can provide.

I cannot prove to you that God cares, and I cannot make sense of the gross disparities in the world and all the senseless violence and heart-breaking tragedies. Yet, I do know that hope and strength do not come from denial, fear or faithlessness. We will not be stronger or better by allowing ourselves to be swallowed up by cynicism, hatred, or vengefulness. If we focus on evil, we will be consumed by it.

If, instead, we focus on God, we will find the perspective and strength we need to face and overcome it. If you let go of questions about the prevalence of evil that no one can answer, and if you drop your resistance to that inner voice that is calling you to put your faith in your Creator and in Jesus Christ, you will find relief, acceptance, forgiveness, inner peace, and hope as never before. This kind of hope cannot be extinguished even in death. And the love that comes from God is more valuable, enduring, and powerful than anything else in all creation, for it is not based on your own accomplishment or worthiness, but on the character and power of God.

So, brothers and sisters in Christ, lift your eyes to gaze on the beauty and majesty of creation and of your Creator. “The LORD who made heaven and earth” has done amazing things in nature and for people of faith from the beginning of time. Lift your eyes to Jesus Christ to contemplate God’s character and intention to save you from yourself and from all those forces within you and in the world that you cannot overcome in your own strength, including death itself. Choose to trust that your Creator loves you and is active in your life for good. Lift your eyes up to your Redeemer–not necessarily to rescue you from all your troubles, but to provide strength to keep your head high, to follow Jesus Christ confidently, to serve God’s purposes faithfully, and to continue to reflect God’s light and love in the midst of so much darkness, hatred, and evil.

He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.  Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? …

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:32-39, NRSV

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No Easy Answers in a War Zone

Only Faith, Hope, and Love

HEAL Africa Doctors meeting for Bible Study in war-torn Eastern Congo

How can you answer troubling questions about God that have no easy answers? How can you talk about God’s love to traumatized people in a war zone, when God seems so distant and disengaged from their suffering? During my weekly Bible study that I conduct for a group of 20-30 doctors (pictured below) in Goma, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), I’m often asked, “What should we say to our patients, whose family, friends, or neighbors have been driven from their homes or brutally murdered?” In Eastern Congo, some six million people have died due to violence, starvation, and disease over the past 25 years. Their nightmare has raised earnest questions about God that are difficult to answer, such as, “Does God care?” and “Why didn’t God protect us?”  

Meanwhile, in Europe, Russian troops are wreaking havoc across Ukraine, thousands are being injured or killed, and over three million people have been forced to flee the country in a matter of a few weeks so far. In Asia, as you well know, the crisis in Myanmar continues unabated and the suffering keeps multiplying. Everywhere there is great suffering from injustice and violence, the same kinds of questions keep arising among Christians. Even my Burmeses theological students want to know, “Are we suffering because God is punishing us?” “Is God ignoring us?” “Should we expect any help from God?”

Homes burn Loikaw Township, Kayah State, Myanmar, following Junta airstrikes, 2_23_22 PC_Free Burma Rangers

In my role as seminary professor and Bible teacher in Africa, Eastern Europe, and Southeast Asia over the past 15 years, I’ve been asked these kinds of questions repeatedly by people who are being traumatized by genocide, war, or oppression. However, rather than try to make up answers to unanswerable questions or offer up false hope, it’s been far more helpful to admit the limitations of human understanding about God and to focus practically and realistically on how we know that God works in the midst of great evil.

As I have struggled with my own understanding of what to expect from God, I have longed ceased to put my hope in God’s sudden appearance out of nowhere to save the people. I’d be delighted for any miraculous intervention God may choose to make, and I pray for God’s help and deliverance daily. But most of my hope rests on how God works in, among, and through those who know, love, and serve Jesus Christ.

I have never had a vision of Jesus, but I see Jesus in his body of believers all the time—in their compassionate acts of kindness, self-sacrificial service, hospitality, and generosity. They are riddled with all sorts of imperfections and failings, yet they treasure their relationship with God. They keep drawing from the well of God’s love and grace for light and life in the midst of their darkness. They love Jesus, and they genuinely want to share Jesus’ love with others. And do so, sometimes even at great personal cost.

It’s been inspiring to me to see the outpouring of support for those who are suffering in all the places where I serve— including, Ukraine, Myanmar, and the Congo—both from faithful followers of Christ within the countries and from a wide variety of caring people internationally. This is surely part of God’s plan to minister to those who call upon the name of the Lord in their distress.

There are no easy answers to the cries and confusion of people in a war zone. Nevertheless, when we, as the body of Christ, fulfill our purpose to be the heart, voice, hands, and feet of Jesus, the world will know that there is a God who cares. The power, presence, and love of God will be evident for others to experience through us. And we who serve in Jesus’ name will be less overwhelmed by the evil all around us, because our eyes will be focused more on what we can do and less on what we can’t; on what God is doing through us, and not on just on what we hope and pray that God will do for us.  

May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

2 Thessalonians 2:16-17

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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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