When Acceptance and Hope Meet

In a previous post, I wrote about the racial diversity of Santa Fe.

But a different type of diversity encouraged me, humbled me and taught me to be more open to those around me.

Sculpture - Santa Fe children

A Sculpture of Reading Children             in Santa Fe, NM

During my week in Santa Fe, I met writers who were Jews, Buddhists, atheists, Shamans, Christians and a mixture of faiths including one presenter who labeled herself a Bu-Jew.

We laughed together, learned together and connected over bowls of green chile stew, creamy guacamole and quinoa power bowls.

Nobody pulled out a copy of the Four Spiritual Laws, tips from the Torah or quotations from Buddha.

We simply found common ground as writers, accepting each other’s differences while building relationships.

Since then, several of my new friends have followed me on Facebook, added their email addies to my newsletter and committed to my blog. I feel honored to have such a rich diversity of new friends.

After one stimulating lunch where several of us shared our love of everything Santa Fe, I walked back to my hotel room. My experience told me the same lunch with a group of Baptists, Methodists and/or free-spirited anointed charismatics would no doubt have resulted in arguments, confrontations and insistence on what the Apostle Paul meant in his numerous argumentative writings.

Yet that type of spiritual blasting did not happen with this diverse group. We simply began relationships built on our love of words.

Of course, I hoped the eternal Word was reflected in my speech, in my manner, in my acceptance of these dear creatives. And I believe that my future writings will make an impact, if for no other reason than curiosity to be explored.

But I understood more clearly than ever before the need to push away from our comfortable zones and wooden pews, to be involved and engaged with people from every faith walk – or no faith at all.

The scriptures call Christians to be salt and light. But too much salt gathered in one place makes for a bitter pot of soup.

Too much light blinds us to the realities of the needs around us – to those who believe differently yet are still vitally important to the God who reaches out to them.

I am more determined than ever before to use my words to embrace and engage rather than to confront. Although I love Jesus more than life itself, his example was to love all and remind the religious leaders how hypocrisy destroys.

How can we share hope with the world around us? By letting our hearts invite friendly debate, by refusing to consider ourselves as experts on every question, by building relationships just because we care for our fellow humans.

How can we best reflect the hope that drives us? By remembering the old campfire song and living it out: “They will know we are Christians by our love.

©2018 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you are a caregiver already dreading the holidays, check out Holiday Tips for Caregivers – a practical guide for self-care during the stressful season.

Advertisements

Hanging On To Hope

As the Kansas winter blustered through my yard, I noticed a unique snapshot of the season.leaf - hanging on

Although all the other leaves had already let loose and dropped to the ground, one leaf still hung on.

In spite of the wind, the calendar day and its length of life – a lone leaf clung tightly to the branch that had given it life.

It didn’t take long to wrap my heart around the analogy and honor thousands of saints who continue to cling tightly to their true source of life.

They persevere in spite of the calendar days that scream, “You should have given up already.”

They hang on in spite of the circumstances of life or the opinions of others or even of well-meaning friends who speak cruelty.

These are people who inspire me to persevere as well:

  • The single mom who drives her children to church even though she has been shunned because she’s divorced
  • The writer who revises the same manuscript seven times until every word is as good as it can possibly be – then ignores another rejection to revise it again
  • The cancer patient who refuses to be a victim but spends her time during brutal radiation treatments, praying through her list of friends and family
  • The nonprofit organizations who operate on a financial shoestring and trust God to provide resources each and every day
  • The missionaries who continue to serve even when their prayers don’t merge with the answers they long to see

Persevering folks who keep hanging on to hope even when everything in life attacks them.


Brave and vulnerable caregivers who keep serving even when the days are 36 hours long.

Mothers who keep praying for their prodigals. Fathers who work jobs they hate so their children won’t go hungry. Christians who refuse to deny Christ even though faced with the wrath of a radical Muslim sect.

The power of those who persevere is modeled at the end of Hebrews 11 – saints who refused to be released from torturous prisons, faced rejection and persecution, were destitute and mistreated. They did not receive what they were promised but they hung on anyway. They persevered and “the world was not worthy of them.”

What is required to continue in hope when everyone else has let loose and fallen around us?

Courage and the grace to keep hanging on to the One who empowers us with resurrection life.

©2015 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

 

Hope’s Foundation

Most of my followers believe there is one true God, and they follow the Christian faith. If you fall into that category, then this blog post is nothing new. You can forward it to a friend or a neighbor.

However, the internet is a vast mission field and long after I am gone – I hope my words will remain, traveling through cyberspace and making a difference to readers.

Hope wordSo I want to post here why I write about hope and how you, too, can find the foundation of hope – to live within the warmth of God’s love.

It’s fairly simple, but through the centuries – some folks have made it difficult as they wrapped the rules of religion around this simple process. That’s called legalism, and it is one of the most damaging and confusing forms of abuse.

So here’s the truth:

Point Number One: God loves us – completely and forever – as far as the Atlantic is from the Pacific and beyond the farthest stars in infinite galaxies. Nothing can ever separate us from the love God wants to share with us.

Point Number Two: We’re not perfect, but God is. Therefore, we have a problem developing a relationship with such a holy God. Nothing we can do will ever make us as perfect as God, so don’t even try. That will drive you crazy.

Point Number Three: Because God loves us with such a vast affection, he wants to invite us into his family. But since we’re not perfect, he decided to create a way we could join his family – like an adoption.

Point Number Four: He sent his perfect son, Jesus, to pay the penalty for all the mistakes we’ve made. Jesus paid the debt when he died, sort of the ultimate price ever paid for an adoption. It’s been taken care of – forever.

Point Number Five: But that paid debt won’t do us any good if we keep ignoring God and what Jesus did for us. We need to believe it’s true and ask God to seal the deal. Tell him you want to begin this relationship with him.

Done! That was the simple part. Now comes the challenge.

Find a decent group of people who are Christians and spend time with them. Learn about the Bible and read it. God wrote the Bible and put lots of information in it that will help you learn more about him. Talk to God and start listening to him. That will strengthen your relationship with him.

And here’s the really great part! When you die, the relationship continues. Your soul goes to live with God in heaven where there’s no sickness, no evil and no problems.

Welcome to the family! All of us spiritually adopted kids are glad you’ve joined us.

“This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed. By believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.” John 3:16 The Message Bible

©2015 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

Hope Finds Holiness in Surprising Places

During a recent trip to Fort Scott, Kansas, my friend and I discovered a wonderful coffee shop. Our chai lattes tasted spicy yet mellow, and the missional atmosphere of this shop impressed us.Rev G quote on Ft Scott wall

Their bookshelves were filled with classics and some Christian fiction. I donated the Reverend G books and promised to bring the third book after its release in August.

But we were most interested in the church service advertised for Sunday morning, so we put it on our calendars and showed up along with about 30 other folks of all ages.

I looked around the room and thought, what a wonderful way to attract those who might be curious about faith. A great way to think outside the box!

I was a bit disappointed when we were handed bulletins – not so outside the box – but even churchy habits are hard to break.

The video sermon was taken from Romans. Seriously? Romans? How can you attract seekers with one of Paul’s most verbose books, a treatise even seasoned believers find difficult to understand.

But it soon became apparent that everyone in attendance was a believer or a seasoned church-goer so we discussed righteousness, legalism and how to determine God’s will.

A lovely young woman sang and accompanied herself on an acoustic guitar. We relaxed and enjoyed her melodies, interspersed with whooshes from the espresso machine. It was fun to meet saints from another town who worship the same God and aren’t afraid to welcome strangers.

Then a wonderful surprise greeted us as we left the building. Across the street was a colorful wall with a unique wooden door – Tuscan colors and the rough textures I love. We each took pictures while my creative mind immediately jumped to the questions: What’s on the other side of that door? What kind of novel can I plot with this door and this wall as the main focus?

Hope finds believers in interesting and surprising places all over the world. We so often root ourselves in our comfortable church pews where it’s easy to snooze through our own spirituality.

But when we move outside our comfortable walls and experience church in different settings, we breathe a fresh invite into the family that makes us Christian.

I’m encouraged to find pockets of believers in various places, worshiping in unique ways and spreading the love of Jesus without the confines of traditional walls. The texture and color of different congregants provide a rich setting for the stories we are all writing within our spiritual selves.

I think God must be glad about these creative venues. He is always able to create a new plan even while His attributes remain the same.

And as one of those creative types who yearns for more spiritual experiences outside the norm, I, too, am glad and filled with hope.

©2015 RJ Thesman – author of the Reverend G books – http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

Hope Offered by Anne Lamott

As an author, I always hope my words will impact readers, but sometimes this goal reverses. Sometimes I find myself changed by another writer’s work.

love God love peopleOne of those writers for me is Anne Lamott.

This week, I was thrilled to attend a presentation by Anne Lamott right here in Kansas City. Anne was, as I expected, witty as well as inspirational. As tired as she was from a busy book tour, she once again reminded me of how she has impacted my faith walk.

Since I became a Christian as a young child, my faith has evolved and grown through several transformations. During those early years of belief, I’m not sure I truly comprehended the power of God’s love nor did I understand exactly what Jesus had saved me from.

How many sins can a four-year old confess? I simply fell in love with Jesus.

But it was legalism that scarred my faith. During my challenging adolescent and teenage years, I was taught how I needed to perform and submit in order to keep God’s love. Legalism 101.

Any mistakes brought an immediate need for confession, hoping the faith teachers and other saints would somehow forget my errors and God would forgive. The shame pit rapidly grew deep as I could never quite dig myself out and be holy enough.

Then Anne Lamott entered my life through her books. Here was a Christian who was authentic, yet not afraid to confront God with her doubts. She showed me how creative God is – how he uses every possible avenue to draw people to his Son.

It was okay for Anne to eat M&M’s for dinner, to occasionally use raw language and to write with a graphic honesty. She showed me that being real meant being true to myself, others and God – how to stop carrying that burden of perfectionism.

Her books underscored the truth that learning faith is a lifelong journey and no one really knows my heart except God. Beyond that, I am not responsible to make everyone else accept me.

As I studied more about faith, searched the interpretation of scriptures as a whole and opened my wounded mind, I saw how so much faith-learning was based in fear. If leaders could determine for themselves what was right and wrong through tradition or prejudice, then they could control others and prevent any radicalism. Legalism 201.

What they forgot to teach was that Jesus was one of the most radical and authentic people who has ever lived. He ate with sinners, associated with people whom society and religion called untouchable. He respected women and had the gall to say, “Hey, everybody. Just two important rules. Love God and love each other.”

What freedom I found in his authentic life and Anne’s words, in her mantra of the three most important prayers, “Help. Thanks. Wow!”

I reveled in her salvation story – how God pursued her when she wasn’t interested. She never worried about being good enough because she didn’t care about pleasing God or comparing herself with others. Yet God cared about her and loved her into belief.

For me – this was a new definition of grace.

I look forward to reading her newest book, “Small Victories – Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace.” I’m reserving special quiet time to ruminate over her words. I know already that I will love the book and probably learn more about being authentic.

So I am grateful for the hope offered by Anne Lamott. I pray that someday my words will so impact my readers that they will grow in faith and learn the joy of freedom in Christ.

©2014 RJ Thesman – “Intermission for Reverend G” – http://amzn.to/1l4oGoo

 

 

Life on Fragile

What a sad week!

First came the news reports about Christians in Iraq suffering intense persecution. Then followed the national gasp as we learned of the tragic deaths of Robin Williams and Michael Brown. By the end of the week, I vacillated between hating to watch the news yet knowing I should find out the most current of events.

In my gratitude journal, I struggled to find something positive to record and finally settled on “Freedom.”Amer flag

I watched the internet video of Iraqi parents throwing their children into the arms of special forces inside a helicopter. What a crushing sorrow yet a final desperate act to ensure freedom for your child! What a fragile distance between dying on the mountain or flying off toward freedom!

As I watched clips of Robin Williams and his brilliant career, I shuddered at the loss of this incredible talent. But I also understood his last desperate act. In the darkest moments of my own depression, I also faced that moment when I attempted to escape via suicide. It was a divine scream that distracted me and gave me the opportunity to breathe another day.

Depression becomes a prison that steals our freedom to live abundantly.

The events regarding Michael Brown occurred not far from where I live, a mere four hours away on the turnpike. Yet this week, I felt a kinship to that mother who lost her son. My skin is the palest of white, and I felt ashamed whenever I saw African American citizens in my town, wishing I could change the past and the present for them, hating that once again – we were forced to dialogue about the same dreaded subject.

Once again, freedom was at risk as racist remarks and protests made me wonder – do we still not get it? Have we not learned that the soul is transparent no matter what color of skin covers it?

In each of these cases, freedom was the topic, hidden in that fragile place between desire and acceptance. In each case, my own freedoms seemed underscored.

  • I cherish my freedom to worship God when and where I choose.
  • I respect my freedom to live and honor my soul’s cry for mental and physical health.
  • I vote for and fight for the freedoms of all Americans to be their authentic selves, no matter what race or gender.

Every day last week, I wrote “freedom” in my gratitude journal. Throughout each day, I prayed for the Christians in Iraq and for the families of Robin Williams and Michael Brown.

And every morning, as consciousness invaded my dreams, I whispered, “God – thank you for my life of freedom. But please, oh please – help us to respect the fragility of life. And oh God, please – keep us free.”

©2014 RJ Thesman – Intermission for Reverend G – http://amzn.to/1l4oGoo

Reverend G’s Faith – Part 1

In an online interview, one of my readers asked, When did Reverend G’s relationship with God begin and how did she grow so close to Him?”
Reverend G (aka Gertrude Davis) grew up in a non-Christian home. Her parents believed that everyone should make his or her own decision about faith, which excluded church as a major part of their family’s lifestyle. They wanted their daughter to be an independent thinker, especially about something as nebulous as religion.

But one of Gertie’s – that’s what her friends called her – best friends invited her to a church camp. Gertie and Susan were both 13, at that frustrating age when they were waiting for their chests to grow yet afraid of what might happen when they did.

Gertie’s parents thought a week at a camp in Arkansas might be a good diversion for their only child, so they consented to let Gertie go with Susan.

The Arkansas humidity covered the campground like a damp blanket, but Gertie didn’t really mind. She just wanted some fun activities, some time with Susan and lots of time in the camp swimming pool.summer camp

But on the first night, the camp music director asked everyone to get in a circle and hold hands. Gertie held Susan’s hand on the left and on the right, she held the hand of Marsha – a black girl from Springdale. Marsha had the prettiest smile and a friendly squeeze as Gertie placed her white palm into Marsha’s black one.

Marsha also had a beautiful voice, and she sang gustily to the song, “They will know we are Christians by our love.” Susan also knew this song, but Gertie knew nothing about the love of God, the community of Christians or the special place God had chosen for her in His kingdom. She only knew that Marsha and Susan seemed to enjoy the song.

That night Gertie, Susan and Marsha stayed up late talking about boys, camp food and the next day’s activities. But Gertie was more interested in the meaning of that song.

“What exactly is a Christian?” Gertie asked her friends.

Marsha rolled over on her bunk and explained, “A Christian is a person who has invited Jesus into her life. Someone who understands that she has sinned and needs to be saved.”

“I haven’t sinned,” said Gertie. “I’m actually a pretty good person. I’m not sure what sin really means, except for people who murder or hate. I haven’t done any of that. So why would I need to become a Christian?”

Marsha thought for a while and then said, “Have you ever ignored God? Are you perfect?”

“Well, of course I’m not perfect. Nobody is.”

“Exactly,” said Marsha. “Nobody is perfect and we all ignore God, so that’s why we need to be saved from ourselves and our sins.”

“Yep,” said Susan. “That’s basically it. If you want to go to heaven, you’ve gotta’ get saved and Jesus is the only one who can do it right.”

That sounded a bit weird, but Gertie thought about it until she fell asleep. Then the next night at the camp meeting, Gertie’s spiritual fog seemed to clear. The camp speaker was a big shot all the way from Oklahoma City, and he used to do drugs until he became a Christian. He explained how God just sort of grabbed him one night and shook sense into him.

Gertie had never thought about doing drugs, but she was impressed that God could save somebody out of cocaine and heroine habits. So she listened carefully during the invitation and then went forward to find out more about this Jesus guy. She prayed a prayer that was printed in a little pamphlet, and she felt good about making such an important decision. But she didn’t quite understand what had happened to her.

However, Marsha and Susan were delighted. They both hugged Gertie, called her “Sister” and wrote her name next to theirs in their camp scrapbooks. But Gertie wondered how to tell her parents about this momentous decision, and she spent the rest of the camp time thinking about it.

God had a plan, a good plan for Gertie. He put into motion a special person so that Gertie could grow in her faith and learn more about His love.

Stay tuned for the rest of the story….