Hope Thrives With a List

Because I process best while writing, I decided to make a list of what I’m looking for in a church.checklist

A perfect church does not exist – anywhere – because it is an organism teeming with fallible human beings. The minute I walk in, the dynamics of that church will change because I am not perfect.

So I know my list is only a series of guidelines, parameters I am looking for in a church body. But it helps me set my limits, to know exactly what I’m looking for and to eliminate any groups that don’t have at least 50 percent of what I need.

My list includes:

  • Jesus. He must be front and center. I want Jesus to be the focus, always. The church is, after all, the bride of Christ – the body that started with his disciples, men and women devoted to following the Son of God. This is one parameter where I will not waver. If you doubt my sincerity, re-read my post “Hope Reaffirms” about how I left the church that had no Jesus.
  • I need a church that looks at Scripture as an entire document and God-breathed inspiration. I will not attend a church that takes just one verse and makes a doctrine out of it. Legalism is dangerous. Been there. Done that. Finished with that forever and ever, Amen.
  • Humble leaders are paramount in the church of my dreams. To minister means to serve. I don’t want my pastors to preach from their strongholds or to demand special treatment just because they happen to be ordained. The pulpit should be a place from which to share truth, not to pontificate.
  • I do not want to hear politics from the pulpit. If I want to consider a political opinion, I will stay home and watch CNN.
  • One reason I am having a difficult time finding a church is because I believe in egalitarian theology. Jesus was the only religious leader in history who truly respected women and gifted them to serve in his kingdom. Scripture says, “In the last days sons AND daughters will prophesy.” Many churches say they respect women and their gifts, but will only let women practice certain gifts. They don’t practice what they preach (pun intended).
  • I want a church that is willing to learn and grow – not remain stagnant with what they’ve always done. Jesus broke the mold on traditionalism. Life-long learning is one of my core values, and I believe we can always learn more about God, about his love and about how to grow in relationship with him. My soul tires of the same old messages. I want to grow in my faith and in how to effectively be a disciple in my world.
  • God blesses churches that care about missions, but many churches are caught in the romanticism of travel. I believe mission also exists right on our doorsteps. I want my church to be active in the community; not just across the globe. I want us to help the people in the pews and in the apartment complexes and those who are sleeping on park benches.
  • Because I am a single mom, it is important to me that my church cares about the orphan and the widow, in every definition of the word. Fifty per cent of us have experienced the shattering of our marriages, and if the church doesn’t want that number to escalate – then they need to “be” the church and reach out to those children and their lonely mamas. I have attended churches where the leadership regularly quoted negative statistics about single moms and other churches that had vital programs to help single-parent families. I believe Jesus cares about every demographic.
  • I am looking for a church with diversity, a body that welcomes every age group and every race. Since heaven will be a mixture of every tribe, language and nation, we might as well start getting used to it.
  • One of the churches I visited filled almost all of my parameters, but they had no need for any of my giftings. I believe it is important to serve within the church. However, I need to be using my authentic gifts and not placed in a traditional gift box. Just because I’m a woman doesn’t mean I should be relegated to holding babies in the nursery or organizing a pot luck. I can’t help it God made me a leader, a writer and a teacher. I’m a first born, for Pete’s sake. I want my church to accept who I am and believe God sent me their way so that I could fulfill a definite function.

In my visits to various churches, I have been encouraged by the numbers of lovely Christians, the various programs and the ways churches function effectively.


When we attend one church for many years, we may believe ours is the only place, the only way.


But many believers are striving to learn more about God, serving in their communities and the world, giving of themselves week after week as they worship together. It has been encouraging to me to find these bodies everywhere and to know we are all part of the family of God, brothers and sisters with one focus – to share God’s love to a lonely world.

One of the pastors I met said, “Don’t shop around for a church. Let the Holy Spirit draw you into community.”

I like that thought, and I am praying in hope for that direction. I believe someday, somewhere, I will find the place where I belong.

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

 

 

What Alzheimer’s Cannot Do – Part 6

Alzheimer’s cannot destroy faith.Praying_Hands

During a Thanksgiving weekend several years ago, I visited Mom at the assisted living facility. It was Sunday and per her usual practice, she wanted to go to church.

So she dressed up, picked up her Bible and we walked down the hall toward the dining room. A visiting pastor had volunteered to preach a brief sermon and lead these elderly saints in worship.

The room was filled with Alzheimer’s and dementia residents in various stages of the disease – beautiful shades of white and gray hair, curly perms and a few shining bald heads of the rare men in the crowd.

The pastor kept his words brief, then we sang some of the favorite hymns: “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” “Amazing Grace,” “When We All Get to Heaven.”

Most of the residents hummed along, some fell asleep, a few still knew some of the words. I sang lustily, my mezzo soprano blending with the bass of the pastor. My mother remembered some of the lyrics and hummed through the rest.

Then the pastor said, “Please join me as we all recite Psalm 23.”

I thought, You must be kidding, buddy. These people can’t recite a passage of Scripture. They can barely remember their names.

But they surprised me.

I watched them and listened as around the room – every single resident recited word for word the precious Shepherd’s Psalm.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.”

The King James version, with none of them missing a beat.

“He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul.”

How many of them prayed that God would restore their lives, do a miracle in their bodies and release them from this disease, this long and tragic goodbye?

“He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”

A righteous life includes reading the word of God and hiding those words in their hearts so that when the end of life comes, when those final years flip over onto the calendar, these residents would hang on to what really matters.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”

These saints understood the Psalm better than I because they live within that valley. I could see it in their eyes, in the faces accessorized with wisdom-carrying wrinkles. They knew this valley and only God could help them walk through it unafraid. And they believed he would comfort them along the way and never leave them alone.

“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.”

Food no longer provided comfort because the appetite was gone, the taste buds had forgotten a favorite flavor or the joy of family meals. Yet smiles surfaced around the group – maybe a dim remembrance of God’s anointing on a life, the cup of joy that once ran over and now waited for its fulfillment.

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

My mother, her voice clear, her eyes bright – solid in her faith and waiting for her timeline to end.

Each one of them in the room, recited what they believed. I could not speak. Tears choked me as I realized there’s a place deep within us, a sanctuary of the soul that cannot be stolen by whatever is happening in the brain.

Alzheimer’s cannot and will never destroy faith.

Amen and amen.

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

What Alzheimer’s Teaches – Part 4

We know that Alzheimer’s Disease can teach us several things: patience, the importance of each day and how we should make memories while we can. But another, rather negative lesson also surfaces.

Strongholds endure. Number 4

A stronghold is any type of behavior or attitude that has a strong hold on us. Sometimes, it is the result of a lifetime of bad choices. Sometimes it is from a learned behavior and other times, it is based on a lie someone told us. Then we believed that lie and based our lives on it. Sad.

I have observed how strongholds endure, not only in my mother, but in myself as well. As we age, our strongholds may revisit us with a vengeance.

My mother’s propensity to worry has magnified with her Alzheimer’s. She admits it. “I’m a worrier,” she says. “I stew about everything.”

She worries that someone is stealing her money, her house or her car. All of us in the family know this is not true, but Mom’s fear is even stronger now that it is coupled with nightmares and the side effects of some medicines. Although she lives in a beautiful facility where she is perfectly safe, she is still a fearful person.

I don’t want that to happen to me.

So whenever I notice some of the strongholds of my past rearing their ugly heads, I fight against them with scripture and prayer. My favorite passages become fightin’ words that fill me with peace when the cares of this life attack me.

When fear tries to invade my peace, I hit it with Psalm 34:4, “I sought the Lord and He heard me. He delivered me from all my fears.”

When the lie of rejection torments me, I remind it of Hebrews 13:5 as God promises, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

When failure screams at me, I holler right back from the truth of Jeremiah 29:11, “God has a good plan for my life. So there!”

Although strongholds may endure throughout a lifetime, we don’t have to let them torment us forever. The more we fight now, the more victories we’ll have later.

I want victory now so that I can live well and leave well.

A Mother’s Answered Prayers

I welcome author Shanna Groves as a guest blogger for this post. Check out Shanna’s own blog at LipreadingMom.com

One of the things I love about Rebecca is her steadfast faith. As we shared a table at a coffee shop and discussed her editing my first book four years ago, Rebecca offered a fundamental truth I will never forget. Rjt and Shanna

“I am convinced,” she said, “that the Scriptures are true. We WILL see goodness in the land of the living.”

Yet how could you have such faith? Her only child had been diagnosed with a brain tumor, nearly died and, at the time, was struggling to find his way. How could Rebecca have the faith that her son would not only recover from cancer, but that he would find joy in his journey?

At home, I sat at the table with my two oldest children—at the time, ages 4 and 8—and asked them for ways to help Rebecca and her son.

“We could write them a letter,” my little girl said.

“I can give them money from our piggy banks,” said my older son.

A week later, we got a kind letter in the mail from Rebecca and her son. They even enclosed his high school photo.

Rebecca and I continued to meet over hot tea and coffee to discuss her editing and help in marketing my books. At the end of each meeting, we prayed for one another. She knew I had hearing loss, so she always prayed with her eyes open, just like I did so I could lip read her.

At one of those table meetings, I asked her how her son was doing.

“His health is good,” she said. “The doctor gave him a clean bill of health at his last check-up.”

I could sense, from the troubled look in her eyes, that there was more to the story.

“The medical care is expensive,” she revealed. Rebecca had been laid off from her job, and making ends meet was tough. Even with insurance coverage, the hospital bills were mounting.

I went back home and mapped out a plan with my kids. We came up with plans for a benefit carnival event to help raise money for these medical expenses.

Caleb @ carnivalOn a hot day in August, a crowd of authors, vendors, kids, and friends gathered at a church and enjoyed a day of entertainment, art, music, food, and shopping. A deaf pantomime performed pro bono and brought Rebecca’s son onto the stage to honor him in front of the crowd.

As I glanced over at Rebecca—my friend with the steadfast faith—I saw a woman enraptured in this celebration of her son, her only child. He had found joy at a carnival, an answer to his mother’s prayers.

Rebecca’s faith has inspired me to not give up hope in finding the answers to prayers.