Hope States Faith

At a recent conference, I heard Rachel Held Evans speak about why she is a Christian. So I thought about her topic and decided to share my thoughts with you.christian-because

I am a Christian because I was born in America. Religious freedom is a gift that wraps our souls in the joy of grace and the privilege of accepting what we believe and who our faith is centered around.

If I had been born in the Middle East, I might have been raised in an Islamic culture with no opportunity to learn about Christianity. Within that culture’s religion, I might have been commanded to strap on a bomb, walk into a café and detonate myself to somehow appease an angry god.

Instead, I was raised with the image of a loving Jesus who did the dying for me – once and for all. Rather than destruction of the soul and body, grace was offered as a free gift. Instead of strapping on dynamite, all I had to do was reach out and accept love.

So I am a Christian because of where I was born and raised. Thank you, God!

I am a Christian because Mabel Gruneau took time out of her busy schedule to organize a Child Evangelism event in my home town. During that event, Mabel used a wordless book – filled with lovely colors – to explain salvation in a way I could understand. I ran – yes – ran to the front of the room and cried, “I believe in you” to Jesus.

I am a Christian because of my home church and the saints who walked their faith in front of my observant eyes. Sunday school teachers such as Lillian Sawatzsky, Lydia Warkentin and Duane Janzen taught me the groundwork of faith.

My youth minister, Dave Gerbrandt showed me how faith works in practical daily life while my pastor, Lynford Becker helped me see how passages in the Bible – written so long ago – still applied to me.

I am a Christian because of the power of music. In the denomination where I grew up music was more than just a slot in the bulletin during each service. It was the fabric of our lives. The choir members and the directors, Lloyd Ediger and Jake Classen, invited me as a teenager to join the choir and learn how to sing true harmony.

My piano teacher, Arlene Flaming, taught me how to play with the proper techniques but more importantly – how to invite the power of music to travel from the keyboard to the soul. She helped me grow as an accompanist and soloist so I could share the gift of music with others. It is because of her that I still sit down to play and worship the God who speaks with rhythm and glory.

I am a Christian because my parents made a commitment that church would be for our entire family. No dropping me off at the door. Dad and Mom both served faithfully in the church and with Dad’s perfectionist personality, we were early for every single service – Wednesday nights, Sunday mornings and Sunday evenings. Then revival meetings two or three times a year. The church was almost like a second home.

I am a Christian because of who Jesus is. Of all the religious leaders in history, Jesus is the only one who truly respected women, allowed them to use their giftings and invited them to sit at his feet and learn.

Jesus is also the only religious leader whose body cannot be found because he came alive after death. With all our DNA tests and archaeological studies, no one has ever found the body or any portion of the physical body of Jesus. So I am a Christian because the God I serve is alive.

I am a Christian because of Oklahoma Bible Academy – a Christian school in the little town of Meno, Oklahoma. At OBA, my teachers somehow merged academia with theology. Some of my teachers were seminarians, pastors, scientists deeply schooled in how faith integrates with life. The education I received at OBA was priceless and it was there during a chapel service – I believed God was calling me to a lifetime of ministry.

I am a Christian because I have studied other religions. During high school and college, I researched other denominations and the religions of the world. While I served as an international minister at the University of Kansas and learned about the faith of my students – I discovered other gods and their legalistic rules.

None of the world’s religions even begin to offer the grace-wrapped salvation story of a God who loved mankind to the extent that he would send his only son to repair the breach sin caused.

No other religion is so founded on sacrificial love and so grounded in historic faith that it cannot be logically explained but only individually accepted.

I am a Christian because throughout my lifetime, this same loving God has personally met with me, sent his Holy Spirit to guide me and several times – actually touched me with his healing hands.

When I have most needed my eternal Husband and Maker, he has been present. During the darkest of times, he has answered my cries with, “I am here.” He has never betrayed me, abandoned me or allowed me to doubt that he would somehow find a way to help me.

Ultimately, I am a Christian because I fell in love with Jesus and never got over it.

So what about you? What is your faith story and why do you believe as you do?

©2017 RJ Thesman, Author of “Sometimes They Forget” and the Reverend G Trilogy 

 

 

 

 

 

Hope Finds Resolution

church doorsThroughout my search for a church, I have gleaned important lessons. Because life-long learning is one of my core values, it gives me joy to learn something new or to confirm principles I’ve known for decades.

So what have I learned?

The Community of Believers Thrives

Throughout this year, I have met so many wonderful believers. Pastors have rearranged their schedules to talk with me. Gracious and vulnerable, they let me pray for them and asked how they could serve me. I have been humbled, awed and thankful for these men and women who love the same Lord I love.

Within these communities, I have snacked on a variety of goodies, experienced a women’s Christmas tea and tried numerous versions of the same coffee brand. Eleos seems to be the favorite. However, I believe my choice of a church is solid even if they have no snacks and no coffee bar.

The variety of music has provided a soothing balm for my pilgrim soul. Although I love the old hymns and enjoy a rousing classical version of the “Hallelujah Chorus” – I have found so many wonderful worship teams, praising God with joy. Do they know how important they are, lifting the spirits of saints who need the comfort of lyrics and chord progressions?

We Share Common Struggles

Churches are living organisms, peopled by fallible human beings. The world we live in makes it easy to ignore God and focus on ourselves. Yet so many believers are trying mightily to be the persons God created them to be.

And in every church where I have talked with the leaders, they’re not quite sure what to do with me. My particular demographic is a puzzle. Most churches aren’t set up to serve single moms or know how to deal with the growing numbers of divorced people and their children. This is one reason why 67 percent of single moms leave the church and never return.

But I am encouraged that leaders are willing to at least open the conversation. They’re hoping to try new programs, discuss new resources and consider how to be vulnerable even within traditional guidelines.

Sunday is the loneliest day of the week, and in my visits I have seen many women who worship alone – sitting by themselves, their heads bowed even as I peek at their solitude. I imagine they pray the same words I pray, “Will someone, anyone, Lord, talk to me or come and sit with me or invite me to lunch or even acknowledge I am here?” Can we do better? I believe so.

Church is Important to Me

Although I took a sabbatical from church to soothe some of the hurts, I always knew I would return. I just didn’t know where. It is important to belong within a body of believers, to find how my little digit somehow fits into the kingdom work of a particular group where my gifts are respected and utilized.

In searching for church, I have been encouraged by my own faith and by the principles my soul believes so strongly that I will hunt for them week by week. I stepped forward, fell back and began again.

Because belonging to a church body is part of who I am. Because church sanctifies my core beliefs and helps me grow. Because the people in my church become family. Because I am a believer, and church is what we do.

God Cares About Where I Go

Throughout this journey, I have prayed every Saturday night, “Show me, please, Abba Father. Make it clear. I want to be where you lead me.”

And God came through. When I visited the church where Jesus was absent, the Spirit in me cried out in melancholy loss. When I attended a church with my son and his girlfriend, God told me it would be only “for a while.” The following would result in leaving.

And when I came to a crossroads which almost exhausted my list of possibilities, it was within that scary moment the divine whisper directed me to the final answer.

As God so often does with me, he confirmed it in a unique way – this time in a dream. I was at an amusement park, already buckled into the metal car of the roller coaster. Just as it was about to begin its cranking ascent, the divine voice urged, “Get off the roller coaster.” So I unbuckled and left the amusement park.

When I woke up and journaled through the dream, I saw the confirmation. My search had led me to highs and lows, to spiritual discovery through the valley of grief, to stops and starts. The roller coaster search needed to come to an end, and I had to make the decision to unbuckle and walk confidently in a new direction.

So I learned a great deal, and I am grateful for the learning which involved more than a year of prayer, visits, leavings and yearnings.

I am finally off the roller coaster, stepping carefully because belonging precipitates the possibility of another hurt and my heart does not want to risk it. But for now, I have found a home and I believe God is smiling as together, we walk through the door.

©2016 RJ Thesman  ̶  Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

 

 

Hope Follows

followDuring my visit to another church, the pastor gave a sermon titled, “Following Implies Leaving.”

When Peter followed Jesus, he left his nets and the fish flopping around in them. When American missionaries follow the call to serve in a foreign land, they leave the U.S. and their families. When we follow God’s leading for new jobs, we leave our current positions.

Although following God often involves leaving our comfort zones and the safe ruts we have created, in the leaving and the following we find direction, guidance and sometimes – a new life.

I wrote nonfiction articles and books for years. It was easy for me to complete research, create an outline and fill in the blanks with sentences and paragraphs.

Then one day, God planted Reverend G in my mind, and I started writing her story. To follow the Spirit’s direction, I had to leave my place of contented writing, recording facts and personal experiences.

Was it easy to leave? Definitely not.

I had to study fiction techniques, step out in risk to sell the book and re-invent myself as a novelist. It was not easy, but in the process, I discovered something fascinating.

Although I had to leave my comfort zone, the result of following the divine whisper was a trilogy about this gutsy minister, Reverend G. And I found a new passion, the heartbeat of story.


Fiction surprised me. As I dug into it and learned more, I listened to my characters speak and direct the process. I started having fun.


Now, I am nurturing several ideas for other novels even while I continue to work on another nonfiction book. My foray into fiction merges into nonfiction so that even facts, research and personal experience become a fascinating study of the craft.

When we follow God’s leading, don’t we often end up in a better place? Although it may in some respects be harder, it is still better.

Peter followed Christ. It was hard. He failed often and struggled to learn how to accept this radical Jesus.

But Peter ended up as the leader of the Jerusalem church, thrust into the role of speaker, shoving aside his fear and his guilt of denying Christ. Eventually, Peter marched into martyrdom and eternity with his beloved Lord.

I believe as I leave one church and follow the Spirit toward another, God has something better in mind.

Will it be hard?

It already is hard – and lonely. Yet I am determined to follow.

I believe that wherever I land, it will be a better place for me to serve, to use my giftings and to glorify God as I worship with other followers.

Following implies leaving, but even in the leaving, we discover hope.

©2016 RJ Thesman  ̶  Author of the Reverend G books http://amzn.to/1rXlCyh

Alzheimer’s – Stage 1: Preparation

As told by Reverend G …

Surely the Lord God is with me and will not let his servant tremble with fear.Stage-1-of-Alzheimers

And yet I am somewhat fearful of what may lie ahead. Although I have faithfully served God within my congregation all these years…although I have spoken about faith often and forcefully from the pulpit, still – I am human and wonder what lies ahead.

God has not blessed me with the gift of prophecy but he is starting to warn me. Every morning when I open my Bible, I ask him, “Dear Father, what would you like me to read today? What will you teach me on this lovely morning?”

For the past four mornings, he has repeated the same instruction, “Isaiah 43:2-3.”

“Really? Again? So here I am, reading the same passage and jotting down thoughts in my journal, asking you, sweet Holy Spirit, to make it plain. What does this mean for me?


ʻWhen you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up – the flames will not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, your Savior, the Holy One of Israel.


It is a comfort that God promises to be with me in this coming thing – whatever it is. And I see that my part is to trust him. But still, I don’t like the fact that this is a warning of some type of impending doom.

Is this something that will happen to me personally or to someone in my congregation? Not to my beloved son, oh God, please. Not to Jacob or to his bride, Jessie. Please, God. I can’t stand it.

Deep water and great trouble. Rivers of difficulty and the fire of oppression. And no hope that it might not happen because you preface everything with the word, “When.”

When you go through it. When it happens. Three times I see a “When.” Yet I still do not understand.

Oh God, my God, I do trust that you will be with me – no matter what happens. If it is an illness or a tragedy of some kind, you will not leave me to go through it alone. You are indeed the Lord my God, my Savior, my Comforter, my eternal Husband and Maker.

Just help me to be brave. And help me to face whatever it is with my faith intact. Let me never, ever falter. Amen and Amen.

©2015 RJ Thesman – Author of the Reverend G Books – www.CrossRiverMedia.com

Reverend G’s Faith – Part 2

We are answering a reader’s question, “When did Reverend G’s relationship with God begin and how did she grow so close to Him?” This post is the continuation of the back story.

When Gertie returned home, she tried to explain to her parents about her decision to become a Christian. But all they wanted to hear about were the camp activities she participated in – archery, crafts and rock collecting. They did, however, surprise their daughter with a new idea.

“While you were away,” Gertie’s mother said, “we met a lovely woman who just moved across the street. She needs a young person to come over once a week and help her clean house. She’ll pay you two dollars a week. It will be your first job.”

So the next Saturday, Gertie knocked on the door of a white Cape Cod-style house and met the owner, Shirley. As Gertie looked around the house, she thought the house looked clean enough already, but if Shirley was willing to pay her to clean an already immaculate house, so be it.

crossShirley also owned lots of crosses which she displayed on the walls or on bookshelves. She even owned a pair of salt and pepper shaker crosses in the kitchen.

Shirley handed Gertie a broom and asked, “Do you like to sweep or vacuum or dust? What is your specialty?”

Gertie smiled at Shirley and watched her pop some fresh chocolate chip cookie dough into the oven. “I don’t mind doing any of it, but I do have a question. Why do you have so many crosses in your house?”

Shirley offered a kitchen chair to Gertie, then sat down next to her. She opened a large Bible with red printing on some of the words, and she began to explain the Gospel of John. Gertie listened carefully and even took notes on the scrap paper Shirley gave her.

Every Saturday from the time Gertie was 13 until she graduated from high school at 18, she helped Shirley clean her house. Then they sat down together and studied a book of the Bible. They went through John twice, then 1 John, then Matthew and Mark and Luke. Later, it was Hebrews and Romans. Shirley taught Gertie how to pray and how to keep a prayer journal. Each week, they prayed for Gertie’s parents to also become Christians and by the time Gertie earned her high school diploma, Shirley had fully discipled her young neighbor.

Gertie told her parents several times about the momentous decision she made to believe that God loved her and invited Jesus into her life. But her parents just pooh-poohed it as a teenage peer group idea. They let her go to church, but they never joined her. She learned to keep her faith strong by continued discipleship with Shirley and activities with the church youth group.

Shortly after Gertie enrolled in college, her parents decided to come visit her. But during the drive, one of the front tires on their Rambler station wagon blew out, and her father lost control of the car. Both of Gertie’s parents died that day, and Gertie entered into the grieving process.

Christian friends at college helped her through it, including a nice young man named Chris and his girlfriend, Polly. But Gertie also discovered the book of Psalms and practically memorized most of King David’s songs.

God Himself became her Abba Father as He stood beside Gertie to comfort her through the funerals, through the sale of the house and through the rest of that long, sad year. Gertie learned about the Holy Spirit and how to listen as He whispered guidance to her. She became a leader on campus as other struggling kids sought her advice. No one was too surprised when Gertie decided to major in social work and counseling, but then the Holy Spirit planted another dream in her heart.

Half-way through her junior year of college, Gertie remembered a passage that she studied with Shirley. Gertie still received letters from Shirley, page after page of encouragement and hope. So it was Shirley who heard the news first when Gertie typed a letter to her aging mentor.

“Thanks for the pretty card you sent, Shirley. You’re always so thoughtful, and I hope to be that way too someday. You’re my hero, you know.

“God has been so close to me lately, and I believe I know now what he wants me to do with my life. John 15:16 says that God has chosen me to go and be an example, to develop godly character and witness to others. In the King James version, it even says that God has ordained me.

“I’ve talked to my advisor, and we’ve been searching for just the right school – after I finish my bachelor’s in social work.

“I’m going to seminary, dear friend, to be a pastor. I know it’s kind of weird for a woman to be headed in that direction, but I can’t forget John 15:16 and I think with social work and counseling majors, I’ll be able to serve God and others in a pastoral capacity.

“Thanks for teaching me and sharing your heart with me all those years, Shirley. I never could have made it through college and the death of my parents without the faith that you modeled for me. God has been so good to me, and I’m excited to see what He has for my future. I love you so much.”

So that is how Gertie Davis became Reverend G. She finished her bachelor’s in social work, earned a master’s in counseling, then went on to earn a Masters of Divinity in seminary. Through all the years of growing up and growing inward, God never failed Gertie. So when she became Reverend G, her faith was strong and she was able to share it with others…even when her life began to unravel.

But then…that’s another story.Rev_G_Cover

Journey of a Novel – Step 5

The publishing process for a book involves many different people with various gifts. From the graphic artists who design the cover, to the copy editor to the publisher – all these people have a hand in printing the final product. As a self-publisher, I learned about each of these processes myself and worked hard to complete a credible product. Now, with my book at CrossRiver Media, I needed to do one other thing: let it go.

From the beginning of the creative process, only two individuals worked on my novel – the Holy Spirit and me. Together we wrote the words, revised the copy, then revised it again. Most of the time, I just listened and marveled at the words that erupted from my soul, traveled to my fingers and became visible on the computer screen. Sometimes, the Holy Spirit woke me in the middle of the night to add another phrase or correct something I had misinterpreted the day before. The notepad beside my bed became a constant reminder that we were partners in this endeavor.

The editor and former English teacher in me always wants to make it better – to correct syntax or find a more efficient way to express the rhythm of my sentences. The creative mind in me always wants to find that magic word that will produce an a-ha moment for the reader. While the Holy Spirit in me is also concerned about syntax, rhythm and a-ha moments – he basically has one goal – to save another soul. So we work together, but at some point – I have to let it go.

During the journey of this novel, I wrote the rough draft in about six months. Then I corrected that draft until I felt it was publisher-ready. Now, I have revised a few places and tried to find better action verbs to move the story along. Throughout each of these steps, the Holy Spirit has also been at work – inserting another piece of the Gospel, reminding me of another Bible verse or an ancient prayer I can add to the manuscript and praying through me for those who will read this book.

This weekend, we finished that process. My characters are now part of my family, as real to me as the flesh and blood people I see each day. The story continues within my plans for a second and third book, but this particular manuscript seems ready to move on. The Holy Spirit waits silently beside me as I save it one last time, burn it to a CD, then send it through cyberspace to the experts who will complete the finished product.

As I let it go, the miracle of the creative process expands. When the book is read by others, the Holy Spirit will once again speak His words of everlasting hope. He will use the sentences, the rhythm and those precious a-ha moments to touch a heart, bring a new thought to someone’s mind or comfort those who provide care for their loved ones.

As much as I enjoyed the process, I look forward to hearing from some of you out there when you read the finished product. Let’s rejoice together in the creative process and praise God for the determined way He continues to save us.