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.

When Acceptance and Hope Collide

During the Creatives Conference in Santa Fe (circa 2018), I was struck with the beauty and acceptance of New Mexico’s racial diversity.

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

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. Nobody confronted others about being wrong or right. We simply found common ground as writers, accepting each other’s differences while building relationships.

Since then, several of these 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 they read 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 comfort zones, wooden pews and cushy sanctuary chairs. To be involved and engaged with people from every faith walk — or no faith at all.

The scriptures remind us 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 as we love ourselves. Jesus drew people in by first listening to them and then meeting their needs.

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.”

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

A book that explains faith in a direct and simple way, Uploading Faith: What It Means to Believe. Written in collaboration with my gifted son and available on Amazon.

Hope in What Works

At the beginning of each year, I send my clients a form to reflect and complete. One of the questions on the form is, “What worked for your writing craft in the previous year?”

Because if something works, then don’t change it. If it doesn’t work, either get rid of it or set healthy boundaries around it.

This simple question helps us move forward as wordsmiths and not waste time beating a dead horse.

The same exercise can work for our spiritual lives. What practice or discipline worked for you in 2021? What positive activity became more of a habit that worked well? What do you plan to continue in this new year, because it worked last year?

For me, Zoom meetings worked. I know many people are tired of Zoom, but this technology kept me connected to my clients, to family and friends. It was a valuable tool, so I continued my account and I’m still using it — almost every day.

Another activity that worked for me was to be more intentional to go to the library. I’m a regular anyway, to check out books and participate in the book sales. But in 2021, I loaded up my notes, my research and my outline and worked on my novel. The library closest to me has a wall fireplace, so I parked my chair near the warmth and wrote for a couple of hours. I plan to continue this practice.

But what worked for the tragedies and struggles of 2021? How was it possible to find hope in a year described by illness, political unrest, economic decline and the threat of wars? Even now, my home town holds the record for most COVID infections. Literally, half the population is sick.

What worked before that I can hold on to now?

Caution about what I Watch, Read and Focus on. What we inhale becomes what we exhale. And what we watch or read often determines what we believe. If I want to focus on hope and stay somewhat positive in a crazy world, then I need to be careful about what I ingest.

My news comes from a variety of sources. It doesn’t matter which side of the aisle we vote for, if we listen only to one side — we can be programmed. So I intentionally check a variety of sources, flip channels and listen with two questions in mind: Does this position honor God? Does this position show love for people?

Like a host of other consumers, I watched The Chosen TV series. It was uplifting to imagine how Jesus lived a real life and how the disciples followed him. I knew they were nomads, but watching them pitch tents, go hungry for several days and question their Rabbi helped bring the Bible to a more realistic level. Caution about what I ingest worked for me in 2021. I plan to continue.

Writing on the Topic of Hope. During this last year, it was difficult to sit down and write about hope. Some days, I struggled to find it. Had to leave the office and take a walk. Prayed a while. Cried. Then returned to the work.

So many times I asked God, “Shouldn’t I be writing about something else? More coaching posts? Blog another book?”

Always he answered. “Hope. Write about hope.”

Sometimes people will comment that a post brought them encouragement. I draw those comments into my soul like a thirsty traveler in the wilderness.

But like most writers, I often post and receive nothing in return. That’s when the wonder of hope keeps me going. Somewhere, someday — those words will impact someone’s life.

Writing about Hope worked for me in 2021. I plan to continue.

Studying the Bible. Because one of my core values is life-long learning, it is easy for me to study, read and learn. During 2021, the Sunday morning Bible class I attend worked our way through Genesis. The Wednesday night group studied James. My personal studies included Psalms and Isaiah.

Whenever the gloomies hit, God provided direction to the perfect verse or passage. One day, it was Isaiah 40:28-31, “The Lord will not grow tired or weary…he gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak…those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” (TNIV).

I memorized more verses during 2021 and reviewed them before bedtime. That practice helped me sleep better. When I woke, I was ready to look for God’s mercies that are new every morning.

In 2021, study, reading, memorizing, learning, praying helped. I plan to continue.

Soothing Music. The joy of music has been with me for a lifetime. Various genres and mediums. But especially my piano.

Half Price Books provided me with a couple of new classical albums I worked through. My old hymnbooks contained sweet memories of the harmonies we used to sing. And often I just asked God what he wanted to hear. Then I played it.

The above verses in Isaiah 40 are beautifully rendered in my CD of the Messiah. As I drove to Oklahoma for my mother’s funeral, I played Selah music. Each morning as I dress, I turn on the radio and start my day with several worship songs.

Music always works for me. I plan to continue.

Jesus Himself. It is important to think often about this man/God who asked us to remember him. Those of us raised in certain churches grow used to the principles of faith. We can sometimes rehearse them like a habit, sort of like brushing our teeth without thinking.

But in 2021, I studied more about the New Covenant and what Jesus actually did for us on that bloody cross. How he forgave our sins past, present AND future. How grateful I should be for how he flipped the old practices of legalism and self-righteous religiosity.

Several books made an impact. Jesus Changes Everything by Bob George and Torn by Mike Manuel. A personal study of Hebrews cemented the truths, and my personal communion time brought me into a closer relationship with my brother, husband and maker — Jesus.

Not only did these studies help me stay in hope, they impacted how I view everything from my daily reflections to the church I attend to how I live out the kingdom of God right now on earth. And it made me sad for the false teaching that has plagued so many souls.

So I plan to continue these positive disciplines in 2022, always being open-minded to learn more about hope and the Author of it. To continue writing about hope in various ways and living my days — 24 hours at a time — with a focus on the positive and an open palm for how I can share it.

Let’s all make 2022 a year of hope. Let’s make our new normal a concession that we need spiritual and emotional health so we can offer it to others.

©2022 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Writing about Hope in 2022 resulted in my book, Just for Today: Hope for Single Moms. Check it out on Amazon.

Hope Thrives with Gratitude

It makes sense to post about gratitude during this Thanksgiving week. Each year’s Thanksgiving week brings a variety of experiences to draw on.

More wisdom learned (hopefully). More intuition about possible gratitudes.

Several years ago, I learned more about the power of gratitude when I followed the blog of Ann Voskamp. Her book, One Thousand Gifts, fostered a cult following and ushered Ann into the world of best-selling author. I applaud her fine work and still promote her book(s).

For a while, I followed Ann’s prescribed plan of writing several gratitudes each day in my journal – different ones for each day. It was a great practice and a way to remind myself daily of all the blessings around me.

Then I decided it was okay to develop my own plan. And it WAS okay to repeat the same gratitudes each day, whether in my journal or out loud.

So I present to you, my followers, my 2021 list. At least for today. It may change tomorrow. And I encourage you to share your list in the comments below. As the saying goes, we can always – always – find something to be grateful for.

  • Hot water. This is a daily “Thank you, God” while I’m standing in the shower, doing dishes or folding laundry.

There are people in the world who have never experienced the bone-warming joy of hot water. So I am grateful for this blessing. Every. Single. Day.

  • The roof over my head. Although I’m thinking about downsizing, wanting something smaller and easier to manage, I am grateful for my duplex. Although I would like to accomplish some DIY projects and change my place a bit, at least I am out of the cold and sheltered — with hot water.
  • Food in the fridge. I like to cook, and I find particular pleasure in making unusually creative meals out of leftover scraps. Rice bowls are my current favorites with a variety of colors, textures and nutrients.

Every day, I pray for those places in the world that struggle with famine. As a farmer’s daughter, I am keenly aware of the blessing of the harvest and the need for food. We are truly blessed not to live every day with hunger.

  • Jesus. What more can be said? I am grateful for this Savior, God-man, of the Divine Three. Always. Every. Single. Day.
  • Color. The variety of greens outside my window. The leftovers of autumn’s show. The choices I make to wear each day — the brighter the better.

How colors make me feel. How they add warmth and beauty to everything. How they have deeper meanings I can add to my books. How color changes the world of gray gloom to a warmer and more inviting visual.

  • Texture. The ability to feel different textures is a blessing that signifies feeling alive. Several years ago, a clinical depression stole this joy from me.

After my healing (thank you, Jesus!) I spent hours in a fabric store, just feeling the rough corduroy, the slick satin, the smooth cottons. Tears streamed as the numbness of the depression was replaced by the joy of touch.

It is with gratitude these days that I caress the texture of rocks, yarns, rough bark on trees, the smooth cheek of a child, the fuzz of my cat’s fur, even the slick peel of a carrot.

  • Words. These are the tools of my craft, the way I communicate with God and others, even with the cat in the previous bullet.

Words have the power to make me gasp with delight or surprise, to frown or to shed a tear. They make me laugh at jokes and sigh with the reading of a Psalm.

And each time I begin any type of writing, I start with the prayer of Psalm 19:14, “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, Oh Lord.”

One of my clients uses Facebook as a type of journal in listing her gratitudes. Many of them hail back to her country life. All are examples of the beautiful world around us and the need to see it more clearly — with a full heart. Check out the beautiful blog posts of Elece Hollis.

So let’s all be more cognizant of the gratitudes of life. Each and every day.

Let’s strive for hope as we use our words to speak a Thanksgiving message.

And let us never forget there is always something to be grateful for.

©2021 RJ Thesman

In Just for Today: Hope for Single Moms, each day’s journaling practice contains the question: “What are you grateful for today?”

Finding Hope in a TV Series

Television and movie versions of Bible stories usually repel me. I avoid them as either brutally graphic with too much blood and gore or too Hollywood, i.e. using gelatin to depict the parting of the Red Sea.

But several months ago, my sister and I watched an episode of The Chosen. I decided to give this TV version of the Gospels a chance.

Halfway through Season 2, and I am hooked. This depiction feels more realistic and worthy of the story. So I’m following this series for 3 reasons:

The Realism of Jesus as a Man. The writers and producers have shown the son of God as also the son of man — a craftsman from the unexceptional town of Nazareth.

The actor, Jonathan Roumie is attractive, but not the drop-dead gorgeous of so many others who have played the role.

I like how he’s not 6’5” and not pale white. His strength comes from within rather from abs grown in a gym. He laughs readily and shows a mouthful of uncapped teeth. He grimaces, winks, sometimes frowns.

In one episode where he spent the day healing multitudes of suffering people, this Jesus admitted, “I am so tired.” Barely able to stand. Ministry exhaustion. Reality.

And when he does heal someone, he looks them in the eye and connects with the soul. He seems genuinely delighted to have met the need. Often kisses them on the cheek or holds them close.

I can relate to this version of my Savior and long for his physical touch.

The Role of Women in the Series. Not merely add-ons or occasional mentions, this series reveals the truth that women also followed Jesus.

We see three characters who travel with the usual band of male disciples. But these women are also included as students when Jesus teaches. They play an important role, sometimes besting the guys and proving they, too, are worthy to follow the Rabbi.

They don’t just prepare food and serve the fellas. In fact, in one episode, the women are studying scripture while Thomas and Matthew cut up the cucumbers for dinner.

In another episode, it is an Ethiopian woman who commandeers her friends to lower a paralytic through the roof. Jesus heals the man and acknowledges this woman’s role.

Cudos to Dallas Jenkins, the director, and his staff for breaking the patriarchal chains of most Jesus movies.

The Reality of Being a Disciple. My favorite reason for following this series is to observe what happens to the various disciples.

Matthew, characterized with Aspergers, yet chosen especially by Jesus to record the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount. His logic and obsessive personality adds to the reality of the show, but is also treasured by this Jesus.

Andrew, often known only as Simon’s brother. Here he is shown as a dedicated follower who converted from John the Baptist to Jesus. The same back story describes Philip who plays his role with a quirky humor yet passionate strength.

James and John — constantly disruptive as the sons of thunder who need to be taught the value of humility. And Simon Peter, always impulsive and a slow learner yet gradually catching up to his leadership gifts.

What I like about the scripts involving all the disciples is that they are not super saints.

Somehow we think that once they answered the call to “Follow Me,” they became mature in their faith and immediate writers of the New Testament.

But no. They doubt, struggle, fail and question this amazing Jesus. Their faith is messy. Half the time, they don’t understand what Jesus is talking about. His metaphorical stories remain clueless.

Just like us. His ways are not our ways. His thoughts unfamiliar to our mental scuffles.

These disciples — like us — argue with each other and judge each other. They want to learn and grow, but that means they will have to abandon what they’ve been taught before.

They must move from religious comfort to the scary and messy building of a relationship with Deity.

Just like us.

To be one of The Chosen today is both a blessing and a difficult task. But if we can be known as those who love because of His love — even when it’s messy — then perhaps more people will choose to join the real Jesus and his plan to change hearts and lives.

Hope is shared in this TV series. Check out The Chosen and let me know your opinion.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Pastor Tanner knows how challenging it can be to follow Jesus. Check out his story in The Year of my Redemption.