Hope Fights the Doubt

Ever had one of those seasons where doubt gnawed at your soul and kept you from living in abundant joy?doubt-cartoon

Yeah, me, too. In fact…recently.

With a life-changing decision on the line, I followed my usual checklist for making choices:

  • What does God say about this decision – his voice deep in my soul?
  • What does the Bible say about this choice?
  • What do godly friends tell me?
  • What do the circumstances show me?
  • Do I have peace about the decision?

When the majority of those questions agree, then I feel ready to step into the next season of life.

So I spent several days in spiritual contemplation, fasting and prayer then checked my options with my bulleted list. Check. Check. All five checks. With the decision made, I felt such peace – I gulped fresh draughts of air.

Until doubt bombarded my soul with its constant “What if’s?”

What if this is the craziest thing you’ve ever done? What if this really isn’t God’s will for you and you’ve been royally deceived – again? What if this turns into chaos, then what are you going to do, sister?

Some of the old legalism tapes replayed in my psyche – the old stuff that says, “You’d better make the right decision or God will zap you.”

Yes, I know that is a lie, but old tapes rewind, pause and replay no matter how many times we shush them.

And the other legalism tape screams, “Doubt is not faith. Anyone who doubts is not worthy of the kingdom of God.”

I did say legalism is insidious, cruel and based on lies – right?

But doubt is not always a bad thing for it is in seeking the truth that we search for God. Without some form of doubt, we are left to roll around in our self-sufficiency and think we’re always right – no matter what happens.

Doubt rides with us in a roller coaster of belief systems, circumstantial evidence and core values until finally – dizzy from the ups and downs of emotional turmoil, we whisper, “Whatever, Lord. Just make this struggle go away.”

In a recent devotional, Megan Anderson wrote, “Doubt and discontent are natural symptoms of growth; they nudge us away from the pitfalls of apathy and complacency. At the same time, a lack of clear direction can be taxing on our hearts.

Taxing on the heart – yes! That was the feeling I experienced as I replayed my decision and the possible things that might go wrong if I chose unwisely.

Give me a confirmation, God,” I begged. He answered only by reminding me of who he is – my Husband and Maker who takes care of his bride.

Then God reminded me that decisions always have a risk factor. But even if a particular choice isn’t the best path – a mistake is not necessarily a sin.

Take that – you old legalism liar.

A mistake is not necessarily a sin.

So … I’m going forward with the final decision, sometimes feeling joy and sometimes walking through fields of terror – yet determined to trust and see how God will provide.

Ultimately doubt points us to where our faith originates and eventually lands – right smack in the arms of God.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hope Builds on the Truth

toe ringTen minutes into my home Bible study, Judith gasped.

I stopped reading Romans 12 and asked, “Any questions or concerns?”

To her credit, Judith must have decided not to confront me in front of the entire group. “No,” she said. “Nothing right now.”

After I finished teaching, Judith hung back so I said goodnight to the rest of the group and sat down with Judith.

“What’s the problem?” I asked. “You seemed concerned about something.”

“I’m just wondering,” she said, “I don’t understand…but…you’re teaching this Bible study and you’re wearing a toe ring.”

I peeked down at my right foot where the second toe did indeed sport a silver toe ring. “Yep,” I said. “I really like my toe ring. I bought it at that eclectic boutique downtown.”

“But a toe ring…isn’t that…sinful? My church says women should only wear wedding rings and nothing else. Our beauty is supposed to come from a pure heart – not from a bunch of jewelry – an outward show…especially something as liberal as a toe ring. It’s almost like something hippies wear.”

I knew Judith attended a church where Legalism 101 was the consistent textbook, but I didn’t realize how deeply spiritual abuse had affected her life.

She shared with me how afraid she was that someone would discover she colored her hair. Her entire spiritual focus was based on how “good” she had to be and how many rules she had to obey.


I reminded her of Jeremiah 31:3. “God says he loves us with an everlasting love. He doesn’t mention any rules we have to obey to earn his love. It’s just there, available for us because of who he is.


“God loves you, Judith, no matter what you do and no matter what you wear. He wants you to love him back – not live in fear that you might make a terrible mistake someday and ruin everything. His love for you is eternal – forever and ever.”

Over the next few weeks, I helped Judith find Bible verses about the love of God. The Bible became more of a romance anthology rather than a judgmental tome. We looked at the life of Mary Magdalene, a leading disciple of Jesus. Nowhere did scripture condemn her or even mention anything she wore.

Even though she had been a prostitute, Mary was the one who first saw the living Christ after his resurrection. She was given the task of telling the rest of the disciples that Jesus was alive. And she didn’t have to dress a certain way to spread the good news.

Throughout the next months, Judith and I met often to talk about God’s love. She began to smile more freely and even giggled a few times. The burden of carrying all that legalism in her heart lifted, and she shared her freedom with the other ladies in the group.

Then one night, she came to Bible study with a radiant grin. “Guess what I did,” she said.

She held out her right foot, and I started laughing. Shining on the middle digit was a gold toe ring. We danced together in a happy hug.

Two years later, I received the news that Judith’s son had committed suicide. When I called her, she was, of course, heartbroken. But in between sobs she said, “I still believe God loves me and somehow – he’ll help me make it through this grief.”

I was so grateful Judith had made it past the obstacles of spiritual abuse via legalism. Without her new freedom, she would have blamed herself for her son’s death and lived with the lie that God had punished her for something she had done wrong.

Judith and her husband moved away, but we occasionally called or wrote letters. When I saw her again – years later – she wore the prominent wrinkles of a woman who has been through the worst grief yet the glow of freedom was still obvious. She had survived to find acceptance and joy on the other side of the pain.

“I’m okay,” she said, as I stroked her cheek. “It’s been hard, but I’m okay.”

Then she lifted her leg so I could see her foot. The gold toe ring still shone from the middle digit, a visual reminder that hope conquers even the most stubborn of lies.

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

How to Hope for God’s Will

Where shall I go, God? Where do you want me to live, work, be? How can I find your plan for me?

These types of questions often plague us, because we focus so strongly on what we should do – how productive we should be – rather than what God truly desires for us.Discover the vulnerable

During my college years, the quest to find God’s will for my life was right up there with “Which guy should I marry?” and “What should I choose for my major?”

Legalism 101 taught me that finding God’s will for my life was the number one focus for believers. It also taught me how to fear God because if I messed up and made the wrong choice, God would make sure I turned out like the bad guy in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” who chose poorly.

Tiny Steps

But what I have discovered throughout my life is that God’s will is more of a series of tiny steps rather than a giant quest.

And when we look back on the years, we can indeed see the direction we were to take as the steps moved forward, stopped, backtracked, changed direction, then moved forward again.

Now as I ponder and journal my way through daily decisions, I begin to catch a different idea coming from the heart of God.

It’s not so much finding the answer to the question, “What is God’s will for me?” but more of a whispered “What does God long for me?”

Longings of the Heart

What are the desires of his heart and how can I see him at work in me, loving me, guiding me, scootching me a bit closer to my ultimate destination?

When I ask what God longs for me, it seems a bit softer – more filled with love rather than divine directive that I’d better figure it out or else.

Becoming a mother and raising my son has taught me so much about the heart of God and how he parents us.

When I consider what I long for in Caleb’s life, it helps me understand a different focus God might have for me.

Certainly I want my son to be healthy in body, soul and spirit. I want him to have a wife who adores him, children who respect him and love to spend time with him, a job that pays the bills, saves for retirement and occasionally takes his mother to the Cheesecake Factory.

But what do I long for him? The question digs deeper.

I so desperately long for him to find that place of wholeness where he becomes the man God created him to be.

I long for him to use his gifts and talents in ways that bring joy to him forever and ever, Amen.

I beseechingly long that he will never make choices leading to life-long addictions.

My mother heart longs that he will forgive me for parenting mistakes I made and understand I did the best I could at the time with the information I had been given.

I long for him to someday look back on his life and say, “Well, that was a good ride. I have more joys than regrets.”

I long for him to attain his dreams, reach his goals and grow strong in the journey. Nothing hurts a soul so much as shattered dreams. Please, God, do not let that happen to my son.

Soul Travels

So when I soul-travel to this deeper place of finding God’s longing for me, I find he is just as eager as I am to reach the beauty of a life given to the process.

It is not so much the goal or the answer to the question that satisfies us. It is rather to discover the vulnerable places of honesty within us so we can identify the desires of the heart.

I believe God wants us to pray, “Please. I want this. May I have it, Father God?”

“Vindicate me, O God, and plead my cause” (Psalm 43 NIV). He IS the vindicator of the broken heart and pleads our cause as a just and compassionate God.

He understands our longings because he planted them in us and he sees the celebration at the finish line.

The next time I am tempted to pray, “What is your will in this situation?” – I will instead plead, “What is your longing for me at this moment, God?”

And in seeking the depths of his giant heart for us, we then find hope to continue the journey with joy.

So….what do you think God is longing for you?

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

 

 

Hope’s Foundation

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

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

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

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

So here’s the truth:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope Offered by Anne Lamott

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For me – this was a new definition of grace.

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

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

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

 

 

Finding Hope When Faith Changes

These days, I find myself with more questions than answers. Although still based in the original foundations of scripture and relationship, my faith is changing.Faith-still-believes

No longer do I think in terms of black and white. In fact, I spend more time thinking and meditating than I do reciting the rules I grew up with.

I am more aware than ever of grace and its powerful side effects of humility laced with joy.

Now I know how damaging legalism has been in my life and in the lives of others who are asking for another chance, for another splash of grace on their hardened souls.

I am more careful of how I answer the questions of others who ask me about faith, about God, about what happens after death. I respect their need to discover these answers for themselves, and I know that my faith does not look like theirs nor theirs like mine.

I spend more time in silence before God, just beholding who he is with awe. As I am more aware of my inner self and my desire for intimacy with God, I also feel him pulling me closer – wanting to spend more time with me as well.

I am more disgusted with the stuff of this world and the lies we are fed. It pleases me to turn off the television and unplug from the electronics that threaten to overtake all imagination and leave us truly fried.

I am more determined than ever to make sure that young women do not have to struggle with these same lies. To let them know that they are enough within themselves, that they are incredibly beautiful and they do not have to starve themselves or pay someone to cut them to try to look more acceptable. God gazes longingly at them and sees his son. What could be more fulfilling?

I am more in awe of what his holiness means and how we fall short yet somehow, he reaches toward us and loves us into his kingdom.

Psalm 33:22 challenges me. “Let your mercy and lovingkindness, O Lord, be upon us, in proportion to our waiting and hoping for you.”

Our waiting and hoping for him: experiencing more of his presence and that awful dichotomy of yearning for a closer place near him yet dreading that when that happens, I won’t be able to stand it.

Then as I wait and hope, as my faith changes, grows and explodes, I experience even more of his mercy and lovingkindness. His patience allows me to draw ever closer to the mystery of his presence where there are more questions than answers.

So real it is frightening. So beautiful it is dreadful.

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

Missing Dad

Most of my recent blog posts have centered around Mom and her Alzheimer’s journey, but years before Mom’s diagnosis – we faced a similar struggle with Dad and his dementia. Mom - DadCheck out the difference between dementia and Alzheimer’s here: http://bit.ly/AFg8SC

On a cold November day, Dad decided to build a fire in the fireplace but for some reason, the fire just wouldn’t draw. Maybe the wood was wet or maybe it was still green. We don’t know. Dad decided to help it along.

What does every good farmer know about fires? If you want a bigger fire, you add more fuel.

So he threw a little kerosene onto the embers and suddenly was engulfed in flames. He bravely fought the inferno that quickly spread from the fireplace to the carpet to his favorite chair. He beat it out with his bare hands and his arms, saving our home. Then he hurried outside to gulp some fresh air.

Just minutes before, Mom, who worked as a nurse in a doctor’s office, felt the divine nudge to “Hurry home.”

When she drove up the driveway and parked her car, Dad stood outside. She noticed that his shirt was burned. Scraps of fabric hung from his arms. Puffs of smoke rose from his singed hair.

But when she hurried across the yard to help him, she realized those weren’t scraps of fabric hanging down – they were pieces of Dad’s skin.

First, second and third degree burns across his chest, arms and hands. His eyebrows singed and his soul aggrieved as he blamed himself and asked God to forgive him for being so foolish.

An apology that resulted from legalism and spiritual abuse – blaming himself for an accident and for the failure to be perfect.

Four months in the hospital, horrific debreeding procedures, surgeries to graft skin from his legs to his arms, pain medicine – and Dad forgot every bit of it.

The doctors diagnosed him with “Trauma-induced Dementia” but the symptoms were very similar to what we’re seeing in Mom.

An urgency to look for something, to have one of us drive him to the university where he played basketball. We searched for something, but Dad couldn’t find it nor could he name it.

Then he gradually forgot how to speak. He was never a big talker anyway, but when he talked and when he prayed – people always listened. Everyone knew Henry Ediger was a man of great wisdom.

Then Sundowner’s Syndrome where he paced at night – back and forth, back and forth across the carpet. He made funny sounds, similar to something a toddler uses, then finally settled in his grey wingchair – isolated within himself.

Mom and my sister cared for him in the home for ten years – ten long years of gradual regression, of trying to figure out what he needed and what he wanted, of patting his hand at night and kissing him in the mornings.

Those were the years I visited and sang to him. I wrote about that experience in my blog post: https://rjthesman.net/2012/03/30/the-power-of-the-music/

The spark of joy from my music lit up his eyes until Easter of 2004 when there was no response. I knew then that he was headed home. I was losing my dad.

In May of that year, during a spring month when everything should have been coming to life, Dad suddenly stopped breathing.

As quietly and gently as he lived, that is how he died.

We buried his physical shell in the Mennonite cemetery, and I still have one of the lavender wildflowers that covered his casket.

So on this Father’s Day weekend, I will ask God to say hello to my dad and remind him how much I love him – how much I still miss him.

And I will be grateful every single day of my life for his godly example – even when the flames engulfed him.

©2013 RJ Thesman – Author of “The Unraveling of Reverend G”   http://amzn.to/176xIdt