Hope Identifies with the Sparrow

One of the joys of my life arrives every morning when I feed the birds. My place has a large deck where I’ve hung three bird feeders. Every morning, I pour out the seed, call to the birds, and watch these amazing creatures float toward me.

Flashy cardinals, raucous blue jays with their silver details, sweet chickadees who fly up and down, an occasional woodpecker, and lots of sparrows.

Most days, we don’t pay much attention to sparrows. We are attracted to the more colorful species and their domineering personalities. Sparrows are just the extra birds that fly near, their plain brown feathers almost an invisible blend on weathered decks. Perhaps an afterthought in the creator’s mind. The bird with which to compare all the others.

Sparrows don’t seem to matter much. Unless you’re one of them.

I empathize with the sparrow. The flashy authors of the world pass me by while I try to catch up. Try not to compare my sales with theirs, my words with their paragraphs.

“Bless me, too, my Father,” is often the cry of my heart.

Somedays within this last act, I feel even more sparrow-ish than before. My drab browning pales in comparison with those who seem to live a more flashy existence.

I want to see my dreams come to pass even as I know the desires of my heart may not necessarily sync with the whispers of the Divine Three.

Like the hawk who casts its shadow over my sparrows, predators of discouragement and fear stalk me. So quickly they sharpen their talons. Wait for my most vulnerable moments to swoop in and destroy hope.

Yet most days — praise God — I remember how God cares for even the lowly sparrow. How Jesus mentioned this particular bird, recorded in Matthew 10:28-31.

Not one of us falls without God’s knowledge and empathic tears. Each of us, though feeling drab, are still painted with divine art — with physical and emotional details like delicate feathers in his design.

And every time a sparrow comes to feed on my deck, I remember the old hymn, His Eye is on the Sparrow. Then my heart feels more secure in the knowing of how much God cares for me.

Sparrows of the past are mourned. Each one a creation missed, a relationship betrayed, an opportunity denied. Yet the One who created them in the first place still exists. God promises an even better life to come.

Here’s to all of us sparrows. We occupy important spaces in the universe, each of us here for a purpose — for a time.

May we embrace our lives and this new year for what they represent, a glorious praise for each day’s opportunities and a supreme hope for a better tomorrow.

©2023 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my new e-book, To Be Alive: The Hidden Story of Abortion.

What Hope Learns from the Pharisees

We rarely think of the Pharisees as the good guys, in spite of the fact that Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, and Gamaliel seemed to believe the message of Jesus. And who knows how many other Pharisees were secret believers.

Yet, we can learn from these guys. Take some of their behaviors and flip them into more valuable learnings. How did their beliefs affect their culture? Are some of their attitudes still at work in our current world? What did the Pharisees focus on?

Study. Years of study in special schools with respected teachers. Boys were chosen for these schools in light of their intelligence, diligence, and sometimes — their finances.

They resisted any form of intellectual laziness as they trained to become the next generation of Pharisees. They learned all the rules and regulations of the Torah and expected perfection from themselves and others.

What can we Learn? We learn by studying how Jesus acted and what he shared. We can also learn from other resources, online and printed materials. We learn as we study our own leaders and those who teach us each week. Life-long learning keeps our brains fresh, ready to accept new ideas and reflect on what we truly believe.

Hopefully, we have also learned that study, training, and education of all kinds needs to be offered to girls as well as boys. Any country or religion that ignores half the population ends up being short-sighted and cruel.

Patriarchy keeps women in bondage, uses and abuses their gender and their giftings. When we refuse to let women use their spiritual gifts — including leadership — we delete the beauty of what Jesus taught us about respecting all people, no matter the gender.

After all, he shared his Gospel truth with a Samaritan woman, then commissioned her as the first evangelist. He appeared first as the resurrected Lord to a woman and gave her the task, “Go tell the boys I’m alive.” And he nestled in the womb of a woman to become a human like us.

Exclusivity. The Pharisees stayed with their people, taught only the Jews, married and lived only with people from their same culture. As such, their traditions and rules had no chance of learning about other cultures or appreciating the varieties of society. This was one reason why Jesus angered them, because he refused to exclude anyone.

Father Richard Rohr writes, “Jesus lived among the rejected. He ministered among the rejected. He died and was crucified as rejected, as somebody who was outside the political power structure. But early Sunday morning, from the grave he led a resurrection movement—a revival of love, a revival of justice, a revival of mercy, a revival of grace.”

What can we Learn? When we exclude others, we underscore the religion of isolation. We stay in our own safe groups and become stale in our outreach. Our religion becomes us versus them.

It is only by inviting others into our sphere that we can impact the entire world and fulfill the Great Commission.

The marginalized of society are all around us, yet how many of them feel comfortable entering a church? Through social media, political platforms, and the very ugliness of our attitudes we have often excluded the people God loves. We judge them by their clothing, their jobs, their cars, their homelessness, their gender, their politics, their station in life. Because they are not ‘like’ us, we ignore them or let the social services do the work of the church.

Again, Father Richard offers his advice, “The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.”

Spiritual Superiority. As learned men, the Pharisees knew their stuff. According to their traditions, their interpretations were always right. But Jesus forced them to consider other ways to interpret Torah. However, thinking of their scripture in a new way took away their control and weakened their system. Their anger and fear led them to murder the One who came to save them.

What can we Learn? I believe spiritual superiority is one of the most dangerous tenets of our church systems. We have been taught certain beliefs through the years, so of course — they must be true. We know the Hebrew and the Greek meaning of various words, so of course — we also know the intent of those words. We ignore the cultural context and pick out phrases that describe what we want to believe is true. We find Bible verses that justify our political and personal bondage.

Yet believers with open minds who truly study with question marks in their hearts may find new truths and new beauty in what Jesus meant, what Paul chose to write about, what the scriptural metaphors really stand for.

When we stop asking questions and blindly accept what we are told, we stop growing.

And with our spiritual superiority, we feast from the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Then we settle into the biggest problem of the universe: pride.

I am grateful to the Pharisees for what they teach us — how NOT to react to new interpretations, how to study for ourselves and seek out those teachers who have open minds and hearts.

Ultimately, we learn and we grow, we impact our world when we focus on only two topics: Jesus and Grace. Anyone who teaches a different Gospel runs the danger of becoming a Pharisaical rascal and tainting the message Jesus came to share with us.

I hope to keep learning and keep growing. To study who Jesus was and what he taught, how he lived in his culture. And to face my culture with the same unconditional love Jesus has shown me.

©2023 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For a study on simplified faith, check out Uploading Faith: What It Means to Believe.

A Hope-filled Christmas Story

“Why do you have those red shoes on your tree?” Danhya, my little friend from India, asked me. She pointed to the felt booties that hung at the front of my Christmas tree.

“Ah . . . that is a wonderful story,” I said, “and it began many years ago. Would you like to hear it?”

Her dark brown eyes twinkled as she squealed. “Tell it! Tell it, please!”

So I sat with her as we sipped our hot cocoa. The sweetness of the chocolate merged with the sweet story of the red booties on my tree. “Many years ago, a young lady and a man married. They worked hard and saved their money, then they wanted to start a family. But even though they tried and tried and tried, no baby came to live at their house.

“One year, at Christmas time, the lady thought she was going to have a baby. So she planned how she would tell her parents with a pretty Christmas package and a note inside. She could barely contain her excitement. But then, the doctor said she was not pregnant. So her Christmas that year was very sad.”

“Years and years passed by with no baby and many sad Christmases. But six years later, the lady was finally pregnant. All the friends and family of the couple were excited to celebrate this coming child. But the baby died before it could grow to full size inside the lady. Everybody cried for a long time.

“Two years later, the lady was pregnant again. The same people celebrated with her and her husband. But again, the baby died before it could grow. Again, everybody cried — especially the lady. She decided she would probably never hold her own baby, but she would teach everybody’s else’s children how to play the piano. She would try to be happy for all the people who had the blessing of babies.”

Danhya’s eyes filled with unshed tears. “I hope this story has a happy ending.”

I clasped her hands and continued. “Two years later, a miracle happened. The lady and the man welcomed their baby, a fully developed, beautiful baby boy who was born on the coldest day of that November during a sleet storm. The tiny baby was such a wonderful early Christmas present, the lady bought special red booties for him to wear to church.”

“I like that story,” Danhya said, “and were you the lady in the story?”

“Yes, and the baby is my son, Caleb.”

Danhya finished her cocoa and pondered for a while, then asked, “So you put the little booties on the tree every year, to remind you of that baby and that miracle?”

“Yes, and those booties also remind me of another baby. He probably didn’t have any soft booties to wear, but his mother and father dearly loved him. He arrived as a special miracle, too, and that’s the real reason we celebrate Christmas. Baby Jesus came to remind us that God loves us and wants to be with us always.

“So that’s the story of the red booties, but the real story goes on. For each person who believes in baby Jesus and accepts the love God offers, new stories begin. Stories of love and purpose as people realize Christmas is all about the wonderful gift of life and the miracles God does inside our hearts.”

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For a special Christmas gift, check out The Women of Christmas.

Enjoying a Nugget of Hope

He did not know me, and I had never met him. But we shared the usual exchange.

“Cash, please. Twenties and tens.”

“Date of birth?”

The guy at the bank window hurried away to check my account and cash my check. I waited in the drive through, listened to “Hymn of Heaven” on Love-88.

Then the tray returned, and I looked up to thank this smiling guy I did not know. Evidently, in checking my account and my date of birth, he realized it was indeed my actual birthday.

The envelope returned my cash with a note: “Happy Birthday! I hope you have a good day and eat some good food!”

I smiled as he waved, cleared the lump in my throat, and drove toward my next errand. But I wondered, what are the seemingly small things we can do to share a nugget of hope each day?

  • Make eye contact with the busy retail workers and ask how they’re doing. Compliment them on a job well-done.
  • Give an extra tip when we eat out. Servers are struggling with inflation, too.
  • Follow my son’s example. He writes a special ‘Thank you for your excellent service’ on the back of receipts. Ends the sentence with a smiley face.
  • Send a greeting card to an elderly person. It only costs a little time and one stamp, but the encouragement on the reception is priceless.
  • Refuse to engage in hateful social media posts. Instead, share something beautiful and positive.
  • Give a thank you note to the pharmacy tech at the drive-through window. My daughter-in-love has experienced numerous hate-filled speeches from people picking up their meds, upset with the cost, or wondering why their insurance has not responded. It is NOT her fault. Surely, we can do better. Be better.
  • Show kindness to the marginalized. Be creative here. Remember that Jesus only labeled the self-righteous religious leaders (vipers and snakes). He never excluded the marginalized, the people who were cast out of synagogues because they were the wrong gender or they suffered with leprosy. Can we not follow the example of Jesus in our everyday lives?
  • Document and compliment any kindness shown to you. I plan to send a thank-you email to the manager of my bank. To let her know how thoughtful her employees have been. To encourage her as she trains new hires.

It only took a small Post-it note from a stranger on the other side of the window to lift my spirits.

Surely each of us can share a nugget of hope with someone each day. And hope multiplied might just make a difference in our world.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Share some hope with a senior friend. Day by Day: Hope for Senior Wisdom is available on Amazon and Kindle.

Hope Within Conflicting Beliefs

While sharing coffee with a friend, our conversation turned to current events and political differences. Though raised in similar backgrounds, we are worlds apart in our worldviews. Yet we remain good friends.

Later that day, I pondered how we people of faith can believe in the same basic values yet support conflicting causes, certain of our beliefs. We may even attend the same church, yet we vote for different sides of the aisle. Donate to differing organizations.

What does that say about our culture standards and about the freedoms we have to choose?

This is nothing new. Even during the time of Christ, various groups constantly confronted each other. The Zealots, Essenes, Sadducees, and Pharisees all worshipped the same Jewish God. Yet their value systems differed, and they often clashed.

Our beliefs come from experience, how we were raised, what values were grandfathered into us, the culture we live in, how we think and make decisions.

For example: in my birth culture within the legalism of the church, I was taught to always obey authority, particularly the leadership of our denomination. So I did not question the ruling hammered into us: “Going to movies is a sin.”

The pastors were ordained, seminary trained, encouraged by the elders with years of ministry experience. They must, therefore, be right.

But my dad asked me to accompany him to a Billy Graham training for an evangelistic movie. Would I like to become one of the counselors for this city-wide event?

I said, “Yes,” hoping God would not strike me dead, yet inwardly believing this was a good thing. After all, my dad was supporting it.

The training was intensive and cohesive, pointers I have carried throughout life in various ministries. The movie created a community revival with hundreds of people deciding to follow Jesus. I had the privilege of leading a teenager to her salvation experience.

Yet kids in my youth group branded me as a heretic and sinner. “If Jesus comes when you’re in the theater, you’ll go to hell.”

My dad’s love and protection kept me from being blackballed, and his gentle reputation soothed the elders’ fears for our radical actions.

That experience began a questioning in me. What if the leaders of the church were wrong? What if their definition of sin was merely based on tradition, a conservative culture, and their need for control. Throughout the years as I experienced more spiritual abuse, I realized authority figures are fallible, prone to sin like everyone else, and not always to be believed.

The freedom in making my own choices via my faith, my own study of God’s word, and the counsel of those I trust has changed me spiritually, emotionally, and at the ballot box.

So what do we do in these troubling times, when so many questions swirl around us? How do we handle the anger within our churches?

Do we blindly follow what we are told by our favorite news channel or by the authority figures behind pulpits? Do we vote based on culture, tradition, and rules or by careful thought and reflective prayer about all the surrounding issues?

How does what Jesus said affect our everyday beliefs? Love God, love yourself, and love others. Period.

As we approach the mid-term elections, perhaps we can be more careful how we post on social media. How we proclaim what we believe to be true. How we take at face value what we are told.

Maybe we can take to heart Ephesians 4:29 and live it out, “Let no foul or polluting language, nor evil word nor unwholesome or worthless talk ever come out of your mouth, but only such speech as is good and beneficial to the spiritual progress of others, as is fitting to the need and the occasion, that it may be a blessing and give grace (God’s favor) to those who hear it” (AMPC).

Perhaps we can spend more time searching for the truth and find it within the heart of the Truth teller and Truth liver — Jesus himself.

And above all, perhaps we can strive more intentionally to love even those with whom we disagree.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

If you’re looking for the truth and nothing but the truth, check out Uploading Faith.

Hope in the Dance

One of the books I’ve been reading this summer is The Divine Dance by Richard Rohr. It’s one of those “I borrowed this from the library, but I need to just buy one for myself so I can keep chewing on it.”

With his usual writing style of poetic rhythm merged with contemplative reflection, Rohr captured me early. This book needs to be journaled through, highlighted and set on my bookshelf as a favorite.

For our times, with all the chaos happening around us and to us, one section bears repeating. I’ve copied it in my planner and read through it daily.

And as we face another election soon, the last phrase is especially poignant. So I share it with you.

“Seek the face of God in everything, everyone, everywhere. See His hand in every happening. See and adore the presence of Jesus — everywhere and especially in those who are rejected by society. See the divine image even where you’d rather not.”

Last week, I noticed a man walking along the street. He was as dirty as the gutter, disheveled, in need of a haircut and probably in need of hope. Instantly, I thought of the above quote.

To see the face of God in everyone. To imagine this man as the incarnate Christ, come to visit earth again and check on us. To wonder how I might help this fellow and others like him, those I’d rather not.

That week, I also watched the PBS version of Les Miserables with Alfie Boe in the lead role. Such amazing music and the story of redemption. Acceptance and forgiveness where only despair showed its face.

The last line of Jean Val Jean’s life spoke this truth and morphed into the Rohr quote. “To love another person is to see the face of God.”

Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if each of us looked for God in the ordinary. Imagined the divine image and essence in each person we see. To love as we are loved by God. To treat others the way we want to be treated.

In this world of so much death and destruction, can’t we do better? Can we share hope by showing love, even when we don’t want to. Even when it costs us some ego, time or money.

I hope we can move toward that inner space where we see God in everything, everyone, everywhere. Then share the hope of God’s love in ways that can change our world.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my newest book of devotions. Day by Day: Hope for Senior Wisdom.

Finding Hope When You’re Stuck

So many people I know are stuck — waiting for an answer to prayer. The answer that will help them move forward or make a life-changing decision. Even a little boost to nudge them out of the rut.

They have prayed, fasted, cried out to God and yet — nothing. The silence, the no-answer, seems laced in the question, “Where is God?”

What is the block? What is holding back the answers? Is it just a matter of timing or something much deeper and more important?

The requests of these folks are not for wealth or a better car. They ask for direction and wisdom, for a simple interview that might lead to a job, for a roof over their heads or a definitive place to worship.

But silence echoes in eerie response. Almost as if the back story of the 400 years of silence between the Old Testament and the coming of the Messiah is being replayed.

The dark night of the soul when God seems to be in hiding and we are left to wallow in our frailties.

But hope determines God has not disappeared. Nor is he uncaring. He may be silent but still at work — behind the scenes. Moving puzzle pieces together, then declaring the perfect time for an amazing reveal.

So what do we do when the answers refuse to come? When we feel stuck in an eternal calendar where nothing flips us to the next section?

  • Keep believing God WILL answer — in his time. Patience, dear friend, patience.
  • Keep praying because God honors persevering prayer. Stay in hope.
  • Know God has a plan and he promises it will be a good one. Stay in trust and believe even in the unseen.
  • Understand that every season — even seasons of waiting — will eventually end. Keep hoping for your tomorrow.
  • Remember we cannot see every detail that relates to our prayer requests. We cannot know the eternal value or the sacred reasoning behind life’s waiting rooms. Mary and Martha did not understand why Jesus waited to heal their brother. A greater miracle was on the horizon.
  • Post this verse where you can see it every day: “There is a happy end for the man of peace” (Psalm 37:37 Amplified). This verse has seen me through various waiting periods.

Hope continues to believe, especially when we cannot see how our faith works. As we believe in what we cannot see, we can know a facet of eternal value exists. Even though none of the waiting makes sense.

In the meantime, hope continues — one whispered prayer at a time. Keep believing in that happy end and in the One who will someday make it happen.

©2022 RJ Thesman – For more encouragement, check out Uploading Faith: What It Means to Believe.