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.

Searching for Hope in the Great Divide

My church just finished a series of messages focused on marriage. I did not attend.

Throughout my decades of work in churches, I have heard multiple sermons about marriage. Tips for how to love your spouse. Using the five love languages. Submission, submission, submission.

Gag!

While there was a time in my life when those sermons were a bit helpful, for the last twenty years I’ve wondered about the great divide.

You know, that nice little label that many of us don’t fit anymore: Mommy, Daddy and 2.5 kids. 

Where are the messages that focus on the beauty and strength of being single? Are we still so enamored with the idea that to be a true believer, we have to find that perfect mate, set up house in the right neighborhood and raise our kids to do the same?

Churches often satisfy the inclusion of singles by setting up a Singles Group. In my experience, said group often becomes a place to search for that perfect mate — the one who already goes to church so s/he must be safe.

I can line up hundreds of women who found out that principle does not work.

So who are the people who might appreciate a sermon about the significance of being single?

  • Those who never married yet continue to attend church and volunteer weekly. One of the ladies in my Bible class fits this category. She helps on the communion team, preps the elements we take together once/month. She is also a praying woman who stays updated with the needs of people and reports answers to prayer. I respect her and appreciate her service.
  • The widows and widowers. These are the folks who once fit the nice little label. Now they are alone and searching for how to find their significance. They still have multiple gifts to be used. Many of them continue to serve in the background, but a sermon series affirming their contributions might bring them hope.
  • Single moms are the group that most keenly feel rejection. In fact, 67% of single moms leave the church and never return. They no longer fit anywhere, and they are overwhelmed with the responsibilities of raising kids alone. Sunday becomes the loneliest day of the week.

In all the years I have been associated with churches, only once did I hear a sermon about the value of being single. It was presented by a woman minister, a single woman, who underscored the work singles did in her church and community.

I sent her a thank you card.

We have no record of the dating life of Jesus. In spite of the plotline of The Da Vinci Code, we assume he stayed single so that he could focus on his goal of winning for us salvation. What would he think about the emphasis on marriage at the exclusion of singles?

The Apostle Paul encouraged the Corinthians to consider singleness as a positive. “God gives some the gift of a husband or wife, and others he gives the gift of being able to stay happily unmarried. So I say to those who aren’t married, better to stay unmarried if you can, just as I am” (1 Corinthians 7:7-8 TLB).

Has anybody out there ever heard a sermon preached on this passage? Or is Paul considered an aberration because he stayed single to complete his mission?

Perhaps my ramblings in this post are because 2020 did an isolation number on me. To my surprise, I missed church. I was so glad when we opened again.

Then, just as I was feeling like part of the “family,” here came the sermon series on marriage. So I drove to Target and tried to comfort myself with something frivolous I did not need.

You know: chocolate, another tank top, the newest flavor of Ben & Jerry’s, another journal, gluten free blueberry muffins, more chocolate.

I guess some of us singles need to know if the institution of the church is ever going to get a clue about what being single means.

About how we know specifically that our Husband and Maker (Isaiah 54:4-5) totally accepts us even if the rest of his kids don’t.

About how we find our fulfillment focused on loving God and loving others, not seeking a mate.

About how we search for hope each day and find it in the solitude of being alone.

About how we love the church but can’t stand how it treats us.

Maybe the search for hope finds it own fulfillment within the search itself. Trusting that God appreciates us even if our ring finger is bare.

Believing that in our singleness — even without the affirmation of the church — we know we are loved.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Pastor Tanner is single and dealing with a tragedy in his church. He takes a sabbatical to straighten out his head and finds hope in his heart. The Year of my Redemption.

Hope Finds the Right Person

Weeping and gnashing of teeth. Wasted hours of precious time. A plea to God, “Help me fix this.”

It was a snafu with my supplemental insurance. When I switched in February, someone did not complete the job. I was getting letters from the old insurance which I had cancelled months ago.

So I called my insurance broker, and spoke to two people who both said, “You need to call Medicare.” They gave me the number to contact the right person.

The representative at Medicare told me I had called the wrong department. They would connect me to another area. Instead, they hung up.

So I went online and filled out the chat box. Wrote numerous explanations to a person who chatted back, “We can’t help you. Call your former supplemental insurance.”

At that point, I was using a few of the cleaner swear words.

After a lunch with some fortifying protein, a bite of chocolate and a quickie prayer, I once again called my supplemental insurance. This time, I reached just the right person — a woman who knew exactly what to do.

“I’m fixing this right now, ma’am. Thank you for bringing it to our attention.”

Relief was instantaneous. All I had to do was find the right person.

It is the searches in life that often bring discouragement. The rabbit trails. The run arounds. The hang ups.

But Hope survives when we find:

  • The right person willing to invest time and build a friendship
  • The traveling buddy who drives us to unusual thrift stores for treasure hunts
  • The mechanic who knows how to fix the current problem without inventing new ones
  • The Savior who graces us with peace [Hint: His name is Jesus and his contact number is John 3:16].

Finding the right person solves a host of problems we cannot resolve on our own. But the search requires patience and an abundant helping of Hope.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Pastor Tanner finds the right person for his shattered heart. Check out The Year of my Redemption.

Hope in the Darkness

It is difficult to stay in hope while we are living within darkness.

Consider the faith of Mary Magdalene. Scripture tells us, “While it was still dark, she went to the tomb” (John 20:1).

While it was still dark, her faith was strong enough to visit the grave of her Lord. She wanted to be with Jesus one more time, to hold his body in her arms and thank him for rescuing her from the demons.

I imagine she had not slept since the horror of standing near the cross and watching him die. Because of her devotion, God granted her the desire of her heart — to see Jesus again.

But this time, he was gloriously — almost unbelievably alive.

Then he gave her the privilege of telling the fearful brothers how she had seen him. He spoke to her, called her by name. Gave her a job to do.

While it was still dark.

When we dwell in dark places, it is so difficult to imagine life at the end of the tunnel. We see only our pain, the challenge of each day. Another twenty-four hours required of us: giving care to a loved one, enduring chronic pain, watching our personal world crumble.

We feel only the raw depth of the struggle.

Our faith tends to fester, encased in a crust of growing bitterness. We inwardly scream questions:

“Why did this happen?”

“When will it end?”

“Where is the answer to my prayer?”

Yet the answer is silence.

At the end of the darkness stands the only One who conquered it. The One who laughed at the eternal outcome of death. The One who understood that sometimes life is much harder than death.

And he conquered the gloom while it was still dark. He had already stepped out of that tomb before Mary came to look for him.

Maybe you live in the depths of a grief that never seems to ease. Every day is a reminder of the emptiness, the place where that loved one used to live.

Maybe you struggle with illness. Every day is a reminder of the health you have lost.

Maybe you trudge through emotional pain, the reminder of what others did to you. Those who did not care enough about your heart.

While you are in the darkness, Love steps out of the tomb, ready to embrace you and give you a reason to live. An abundance of a better life waits for you. The risen Jesus longs to empower you with his hope-filled strength.

Stay in hope. The darkness will gradually fade, and you will breathe life again.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Finding Hope When Life Unravels is an e-book with action points for stepping out of the darkness.

Hope Embraces Self-care

A national magazine asked me to write an article about becoming emotionally overwhelmed. So I hammered out 1600+ words. Yet, even as I wrote, another reminder of self-care affected my thought processes.

It has taken me so many years to believe and write this truth. But one purpose of a blog is to be forthright and honest, even vulnerable. So here goes my truth:

Self-Care is a valid spiritual discipline.

Many of us have been taught — dare I say “programmed” — to believe that any type of self-care is selfish, prideful, a sin. Taking care of ourselves feels somehow “less than.”

We believe if we completely wear out for Jesus, we are more spiritual and worthy of heavenly treasures. If we are utterly exhausted, we have completed our earthly journey and won the reward of the faithful.

Yet Jesus taught us to love others as we love ourselves. We cannot truly love others until we have learned how to love and care for ourselves.

And we cannot truly love ourselves until we search under the detritus of other-care to find our lonely souls.

But we are afraid of doing the wrong thing. So we live like the walking wounded, zombie-like versions of who God created us to be. We do for others all the time, sign up to volunteer at various places b/c they have needs and we think we must meet those needs.

Then we wake up one day, completely overwhelmed from bearing the burdens of everyone else and ignoring our own needs.

But Abba God has never asked us to kill ourselves, even for the emotional health of others.

My therapist once complimented me on some choices I made. To replace some old towels with new ones in the lovely colors I enjoy. To schedule a mani/pedi for myself on Valentine’s Day. Just because.

“Both of those decisions are self-care,” she said.

I did not even realize I was taking care of myself. But when I stepped back and saw the basis of these choices as self-care, they felt good. No condemnation. No drama and no guilt.

The beginnings of self-care happen by setting healthy boundaries, by daring to take care of ourselves and saying, “No” to anything that tries to break through those boundaries.

The first boundary is skin. Protecting our physical bodies is the first line of defense. Anything or anyone who violates that boundary is unsafe.

The second boundary is time. This area is where so many of us who have ministered to others fail. We make ourselves available 24/7, refuse to take breaks or even the PTO the job offers so that we can help meet the needs of hurting others.

We don’t see how we are actually harming ourselves.

The third boundary is more subtle, the area we bury until one day we wake up and realize we have lost our true destiny. This boundary is the soul. We ignore soul-care, letting time and other needs dominate.

But the soul is the basis of who we are. We cannot grow without its strengthening. We cannot truly be ourselves without listening to its needs.

Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way underscores the importance of artist dates. To go somewhere by yourself and for yourself. Not to do anything for anyone else or meet some sort of deadline. But just to be and enjoy the beauty of art around you.

A walk through the arboretum – not during this cold snap of course – but later in the calendar. Browsing through fuzzy yarns and fun crafts at Hobby Lobby. Maybe a late-night or early-morning ice cream run. I can vouch for the Queen of Hearts flavor at Sylas & Maddy’s.

One of my clients introduced me to the coffee shop and serenity of Family Tree Nursery. During Christmas, their trees were so lovely. I plan to go back for some writing time. Or maybe to dream about my spring garden plans. Or maybe just to sip a chai and take care of my soul-self.

I am putting together a list of things I want for myself in these late-in-life days, how I can spend my time just enjoying the moments and being myself, where I can rediscover the root of my dreams.

If that sounds selfish, well — I don’t care. Don’t judge me. I have spent a lifetime in ministry helping others. It is okay to now help myself.

The definition of grace deletes the need for excess works to please God. Grace means accepting his love for me, then recycling that love into a deeper understanding of who I am. Once I am free from the legalism of having to do, I can then truly love others where they are and for who they are.

It is time to learn more about loving myself and find hope in the process. Perhaps you can comment on how you are doing the same.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

Check out my newest e-book: Finding Hope When Life Unravels.

Hope Finds a January Purpose

Although I did not send the usual number of Christmas cards this year, I did receive several beautiful greetings from many of you. Thank you!

So … what to do with Christmas cards after the eggnog has soured and the poinsettia is dead? Just pitch the cards while cleaning up all the decorations and torn wrappings? No way.

Sometimes I frame cards. One example hangs in my office – a reminder to stay in JOY all through the year.

Use cards to decorate the house next year? Yes.

One particular card declares “Noel” on my kitchen table. I hate to pack it away. Maybe I’ll leave it up through February. It is, after all, a deep red color.

For several years, I used the front cover of Christmas cards as gift tags for the next year. Using a plain brown wrapping with a colorful card was fun and lovely.

But for the last few years, I have enacted a special routine after the holidays. I set my basket of cards on the kitchen table, next to my Bible and a candle. This is my sacred place for meditation, reading and prayer each morning.

Every day when I meet with God, I choose one of the cards and read again the message written inside. Sometimes that includes letters from friends, family and clients. Then I pray for the person who sent the card.

I ask God to bless that person and her/his family during the coming new year — to fill them with hope and joy — to draw them closer to the loving heart of Abba.

If I know of a particular need, I pray for that. Keep them safe, especially this year with COVID-19 still raging, racial injustice still prevalent and political turmoil underscored. Provide for them what they need — a warm and safe home, food every day, enough love to keep them in abundant joy.

This year, I know of many people who are grieving: Oh, sweet Spirit — send them a special touch of comfort. A flash of crimson cardinal that decorates a bleak winter tree, a treasured grandchild with a kiss still sticky from leftover candy canes, a beautiful song that reminds them of their loved one. You know what to do, God. You know the desires of all hearts. Comfort those who need to know you’re close.

Praying through my cards helps Christmas last a little longer and reminds me of all the friends and loved ones who took the time to send me a holiday message.

I feel a bit more loved.

It reminds me how we are connected — through the DNA of family members, through experiences we have shared, through the beauty and power of words, through the bloodline of that baby in the manger who became the Savior on the cross.

Christmas is about more than decorations and presents. And the weeks after Christmas are about more than cleaning up, starting a diet, cashing in gift cards or going back to work.  

Hope travels from one season to the next, especially when it is tethered by praying over my Christmas cards.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

How about starting off the New Year with a brand new book? The Invisible Women of Genesis is available on Amazon.  

Hope in One-Word Prayers

Hope sometimes hides in simple places, often in one-word prayers.

The prayer life can be taught by spiritual advisors and multiple resources, but I think God most appreciates our prayers when they come from the desperate places of our hearts.

One-word prayers exist in that place where self-sufficiency ends. The gut punch past emotion and any reasoning ability.

My one-word prayers come when I have nothing left — when I’ve exhausted all my personal resources and my attempts to fix the problem.

When all I have left is a plea to Abba Father.

Please. After my first two babies died on their birthdates, getting pregnant again seemed daunting and simply frightening. I could not emotionally lose another child.

So when the pregnancy test read positive, I had only one word for God: “Please.”

As I lay in bed for six months, hoping to keep my child, I repeatedly begged God, “Please.” That baby, my Caleb, was born healthy and screaming a voluminous God-type answer.

But in his 21st year, a massive brain tumor almost took him away. Again, all I could manage on my knees in the ICU was another, “Please.”

God does not always answer these prayers in the affirmative, but this time — he said, “Yes.” My son is now cancer free, 14 years later.

Why. This one-word prayer is rarely answered. God does not have to justify his actions or what he allows. His job description as supreme authority is clear.

But we still ask the question. Most of us have asked “Why?” during 2020. Why this pandemic, this horrific loss of life, jobs, businesses, conferences, travel? No answer.

As my mother lives within the shadows of Alzheimer’s, I have asked, “Why?” In 2020, she fell and broke the same hip twice. She tested positive for COVID. Three times, I pulled out my little black dress and emotionally prepared to drive to her funeral.

But Mom survived to continue in the shadows, oblivious of any family or friends. Why? When she wants to be in heaven. What is the purpose?

I do not know, cannot comprehend the Why. But this one-word prayer often returns.

When. God is transcendent. He exists outside time and space. He does not wear a watch or schedule his day on a cell phone. Eternity and its Maker are timeless.

Yet we exist within the boundaries of twenty-four hours and a yearly calendar. We want to know when God’s promises to us will happen. We need to make plans, be prepared and look the part.

We need something to look forward to.

My vision journal is filled with promises God made to me. My Bible has years marked beside verses God underscored. Yet many of these promises have not occurred. When, God? When?

No answer … yet.

Although one-word prayers come from a deep place of need, they do have a positive spin.

We may feel frustrated by incomplete answers, but these desperate prayers prove our faith. They remind us we have somewhere to go with our Please, Why and When.

They prove we believe in God’s existence even when we cannot explain his ways.

A final one-word prayer is the one I cry when I cannot even imagine another word. It is the place I have gone multiple times throughout life.

And I imagine life will throw other scenarios in my direction where this one-word encapsulates the cry of my heart.

It ignores the Why, because at the point when my tears cannot release, my voice is raw and my mind will not wrap itself around the grief — I don’t care why.

It forgets about When, because that moment represents my exact need. There is no thought of another time.

Yet this word holds a Please with every breath.

This one-word prayer includes every plea ever spoken and reverberates through my universe. It is the word that holds my heart and keeps my life somewhat steady — even in the chaos.

Jesus. The name above all names. The answer to every heart’s cry.

The one-word prayer that echoes with hope.

©2021 RJ Thesman – All Rights Reserved

For more posts about the faith walk and prayer, check out Uploading Faith. My Caleb and I wrote it together.