Tag Archives: Christian faith

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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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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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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