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Still Off Script—A Thanksgiving Reflection

Seven years ago, today, I was one treatment into nearly a year of chemo and radiation, wondering what God was doing. I was praying treatment would work.

Six years ago, today, cancer treatments were successful and cancer was in the rear-view mirror; but God was calling weak-me to follow Him away from everything I knew. It was alarming and sleep depriving.

Five years ago, today, we were in life-fog, standing with my friend, Ray, at the Macy’s Parade in New York. Our lives were dominated by displacement and disorientation after relocating to New England.

Four years ago, today, physical strength was almost back to normal. The fog of relocation was clearing as God knit our hearts to a wonderful new church family.

Three years ago, today, our home was filling up with friends and family who had joined us in ministry in Connecticut. Health was returned to both me and our church. God was forging a deep work in our lives through the breaking journey of the previous four years.

Two years ago, today, we had twin grand-babies! God had led amazing leaders and friends to join our staff team. New believers were meeting Jesus on a regular basis at Emmanuel. His church was healthy in Gospel ministry.

One year ago, today, our family crowd for Thanksgiving had grown yet again, and our hearts overflowed with gratitude for every step on this journey. Over six years, God had gradually moved us from hopeless to hope, one day at a time!

Today, I look back on this intricate tapestry called “God’s script” and I marvel. I wonder at Him! His heart is overwhelming and indescribable. Words cannot do justice to the marvel of Jesus and His presence in every detail of life. I would have never chosen to write this script this way, but having journeyed through it with Him, I would never choose to rewrite one moment of it.

Today, I reflect and give thanks that our lives are still “off script.” I give thanks to Jesus for showing me Himself in such a myriad of colorful, experiential, beautiful ways.

Here are some things I have learned about Jesus and His script…

His script is beautiful, wonderful, and exceedingly rewarding—Nobody knows how to delight your heart more than Jesus. He said to Abraham, “I am thy shield and thy exceeding great reward.” (Gen. 15:1)

“Abraham, I’m the resolution of every vulnerability and the fulfillment of every dream you’ve ever had! I’m your ultimate protector and your ultimate provider. I resolve your fears and fulfill your heart!”

He does the same for you and me!

His script is uncomfortable, painful, and at times, terrifying—The first thing He said to Abraham is “Walk away and follow me.” (See Gen. 12:1) He calls us from the lives we think we want into the life He knows we want. The call looks scary, but how silly our fears and hesitations must be from His vantage point!

Our fear and hesitation with Jesus simply reveals that we really don’t know Him like we think we do. God intervenes, He disrupts our lives to save us from ourselves. He calls us away from self and to Himself because He loves and cares for us better than we could love or care for ourselves.

You are your worst lord. Jesus is your best, most loving, gracious Lord. Discomfort with Him simply reveals that I’m finding comfort in the wrong things—even dangerous things. He must rescue me from those things.

His script initially calls for sacrifice, but ultimately requires none—For Abraham, walking away meant sacrifice. But years later He probably thought, “What sacrifice?” That’s how I feel. Whatever God asked from me, He has replaced with Himself. Whatever God has seemingly “required” in hind sight pales in comparison to what God has restored.

How do you put a price on spiritual health? How can you value emotional and soul health? We think these things grow in favorable, predictable, comfortable material circumstances. Not so. Often those material pursuits, even good “ministry-based” ones, actually starve our hearts and crush our souls.

Your soul is never healthier than when resting in Jesus’ loving Lordship and leadership—even when He leads you into the shadows.

His script mixes beauty and burden in a mysterious way—God’s ways are astounding. He brought beauty and blessing in the middle of the burden of cancer. He brought beauty and blessing from the burden of painful and emotional transitions.

He is mysteriously, comprehensively wonderful and gracious! You can never hope to make sense of what He is presently doing; but you can always rest and delight in Who is doing it! One day you will drop your jaw with captivated delight at what God did during your foggy seasons.

Life’s chaos is God’s art-board! What seems like chaos is God’s color palette of building His best blessings and working His deepest joys in your heart. It’s where He begins the work that will most blow our minds.

His script delights the heart and reveals Him personally—Jesus is real, very much alive and present; and He is intensely interested in you personally. If not for His sacrifice on the cross, that kind of attention from Almighty God would be a terrifying experience (think Isaiah, “Woe is me, for I am undone!”) The Gospel makes the intimate presence of Jesus and His intense focus on me an explosively joyful delight!

His script for me has revealed Jesus to me. He has walked with me, sat with me, directed me, and delighted me. He waits with me when I weep; forgives me when I fail; sustains me when I struggle; and holds me together when I lose hope.

He shows up in the most beautifully nuanced ways—an unexpected word from a friend, a hug from a grand twin, authentic worship in a joyful church, a random rainbow, and most of all, in His word’s ability to meet my immediate needs. It all makes me want to hold more tightly to Him forever.

His script is the only script I care about for my future!

His script is never one I would choose, but never one I would undo—Is your life foggy right now? Is your temporal future “uncertain” feeling? Maybe you have a bizarre burden, a difficult diagnosis, or a perplexing problem that has fallen into your world. You’re thinking, “Wait, this was not supposed to happen!”

Can I breathe a little hope into your heart?

You would not choose this now. But, if you walk through this with Jesus, you would never “unchoose it” either. For now, faith and courage will call your forward into the fog—in spite of fear and fragility. One day, your questions will fall away and your heart will celebrate the beauty that God was fashioning. It’s the most certain thing about your life—Jesus is doing something eternally amazing!

His script blesses others through your blessings and burdens—Off script moments demand focus on survival. For the moment, your view is necessarily narrow. But Jesus’ vision is comprehensive—He’s working in you to work through you!

What He’s doing to you is about what He’s doing through you. Whatever is unfolding in your life this Thanksgiving is going to somehow extend His grace and blessing to others. You may not know them yet. You may not be able to connect the dots. But this is what He does—He is a magnanimous, generous, abundant blesser of people! Cooperate with Him, and be assured that your fog is probably going to develop someone else’s faith.

His script uses brokenness to reveal His beauty and blessing—God works with weakness. He breaks us down to remake us. He makes us weak to show us His undeniable strength.

Weakness makes us dependent—it brings us to the safest possible place in the universe—dependent rest in and on Jesus. Fall on Him—collapse into His care. This is where the beauty and blessing show up! Brokenness drives us into His beauty. There’s a joy and delight with Him that no material or circumstantial pleasure could ever produce!

His script is one that humbles you in undeserving gratitude over and over—When I look at the faces of the Emmanuel family, our staff, our family—my heart is deeply grateful for their stories and their friendship. The older I grow, the more grateful I am that anyone would look past my flaws and extend to me their friendship.

My heart is surrounded with amazing people—and at least for this moment, I’m deeply blessed to know them, love them, and call them friends. I esteem and revere their roles in my life and the ways they bless my heart.

His script leads you to discover His joy over you—When Israel was weeping with conviction over their relational distance from God, Nehemiah spoke to them. He told them to make that day “holy” to God—no weeping, no mourning, no sorrow. He essentially said, “Today God calls us to celebrate His joy over us—go home and eat the fat and drink the sweet! Have some turkey and pie (with whip cream!)—God’s joy over you is your strength!” (See Nehemiah 8) Sounds like Thanksgiving to me!

This joy is God’s joy over me! God delights in me; God likes me; God rejoices over me. I could never deserve this kind of meaning or value—but because of Jesus and the Gospel, I have it! You and I produce joy in God’s heart! Wow! No matter how foggy life is, this realization will put strength into you.

——————————————

This past Sunday, Dana and I knelt at the altar to pray. As we began to thank Jesus, our hearts overflowed, our throats tightened, and emotion welled up. We wept together. Looking back on God’s script, we cannot find words to describe our hearts.

Yet we try. We cry. We look back. We look around. We look up. We look forward. We cherish now, and we anticipate the ultimate future with Jesus and those we love.

He is so wonderful! For now, and possibly forever, we feel so inundated with God’s goodness, the tears choke our ability to speak. I imagine, before his throne, we will struggle with tightened throats and overwhelming emotion to simply say…

“Jesus, thank you!”

To my friends in the fog—I love you and know that Jesus walks with you into a script you will one day celebrate!

Today, we celebrate by faith, but one day, by sight and face to face!

Until then, Happy Thanksgiving, whatever year this is for you!

Cary

 

P.S. Thanks for reading!

One of my favorite songs says it well…

Jesus, Thank You

The mystery of the cross I cannot comprehend

The agonies of Calvary

You the perfect Holy One, crushed Your Son

Who drank the bitter cup reserved for me

 

Your blood has washed away my sin

Jesus, thank You

The Father’s wrath completely satisfied

Jesus, thank You

Once Your enemy, now seated at Your table

Jesus, thank You

 

By Your perfect sacrifice, I’ve been brought near

Your enemy You’ve made Your friend

Pouring out the riches of Your glorious grace

Your mercy and Your kindness know no end

 

Lover of my soul

I want to live for You

 

(Music and words by Pat Sczebel)

 

 

 

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