But He Went Off Script

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If we think we are okay with a less structured schedule, one way to test that is to think about our reaction when someone in our lives does something differently or at a different time.


We might discover that we are in a better place when there is some predictability in the rhythm of our days.


I’m a fairly structured person, but one who likes some free-flowing times here and there. How structured am I?  Even after retirement I keep a calendar for appointments and to remember birthdays, anniversaries, and special occasions. If I get a call to change one of those scheduled times, I can most often accommodate the change and yet I am not usually excited to do it.


There is a rhythm to my days and weeks and in retirement I like to make sure those things that matter most to me can happen with regularity and without getting shifted much. They got squeezed and sometimes deleted for many years and now I choose to value and prioritize them.


Many persons who work shifts find challenges in their rhythm changing. A social person agriculture-antioxidant-carrot-33307who enjoys gardening and getting together with friends can feel pretty upended if their employment position requires them to work at night and sleep during the day. The things they love are not going to fit very well and they can feel disgruntled.


You can get that sense with the rhythm of the school calendar as well. More than a few parents prefer the school year rhythm – not just because the children are out of the house, but because it sets a more predictable ebb and flow of each week. (especially bedtimes) That allows everyone to be clearer on what they can plan to do and when it fits. Summer schedules are fun but can also feel like a whirlwind.


New retirees who have worked all their lives have worked within a scripted planner to varying degrees. When retirement comes and they now have the freedom they were looking forward to, some express a sense of uncertainty about what to do to fill their days after the novelty of the first few weeks has worn off. For those whose careers gave them little time to develop their hobbies and passions, it can be even harder.


When someone goes off script too much of the time, most of us feel unsettled.


No one did that quite as effectively as Jesus in his earthly ministry.


Think how many times He did what no one expected. It’s little wonder the religious leaders of the day doubted He was the Messiah. He wasn’t acting in the way they expected. He chose common men and women to be closest to Him including the 12 He chose as disciples instead of choosing the religious scholars of the day.


It happens over and over again. He spends all day teaching a multitude and then asks the disciples to come up with a lunch for them when there is only one boy with five loaves and two fish.


Jesus is walking on the road to Jerusalem passing through Jericho and a short wealthy tax collector wants to get a glimpse of this Jesus and runs ahead and climbs a tree to get a better view. Jesus sees the man in the tree, calls him down and says He is going to the house of this Zacchaeus. Calling out a tax collector perched in a tree and inviting yourself to his home is certainly going off script.


Then there was that day where the religious of the day took a woman caught in the act of adultery and prepared to stone her as the law required. This was a grievous sin after all, but when Jesus came on the scene He stooped down and wrote something in the dirt for those who had stones in their hands to read. Whatever He wrote, it caused them to drop their stones and walk away and Jesus told the woman He forgave her. Who could have seen that coming?


bark-boat-dawn-1039080At the end of another long day of teaching Jesus tells the disciples He needs some time alone and goes off into the mountain to pray. They head out across the lake in a boat to meet Him on the other side and an incredible storm starts rocking the boat to an extent even these seasoned fishermen are afraid. Who could have expected to see Jesus walking on the rough waves to rescue them?


Passover and the traditional Passover Seder was a special observance that everyone grew up knowing. The same foods were served in the same order, the same prayers were said as the history of the first Passover was observed.


When Jesus told Peter and the disciples to meet Him for this Passover Seder, they have no idea it will be different or that we will forever remember it as The Last Supper. Jesus went off script again at an observance they would likely have experienced with Him before. He washes their feet and takes on the role of a servant, lowering Himself before them. It’s little wonder the disciples are bewildered and struggled with what He was doing. Peter even insists He not do this thing and misses the point.


You see when Jesus went off script, He showed love in ways that caught them off-guard. Moment by moment when Jesus was with them, He was not just teaching the gospel, but living it out. He was reminding them of the humble positions He was calling them to take when He ascended into heaven and entrusted them with the gospel and told them to build his church.


It can be easy for us to fall short in our understanding of spiritual formation. Reading and reflecting on the life of Peter in The First Breakfast, I was reminded again as the authors (Eric and Kristen Hill) wrote these words:


“Incredible spiritual formation happens in us when we recognize that we genuinely are unworthy to have Jesus wash our feet, but in His posture of grace, He kneels before us and washes them even still. Once that realization begins to take root in us, only then can the gospel of His great love and grace come alive in us. Even if we don’t understand it all just yet, the way forward to be with Jesus comes only in a posture of surrender. Only then can the unworthy soul begin to feel its worth in Christ alone.”


He is demonstrating in his actions how little they understood what love means in a myriad of ways and we miss it as well far too often. He catches us by surprise as we glance out our window at sunset on a winter’s evening and the sky is awash in reds, golds, purples, and yellows. We have seen many lovely sunsets, but He arrests our attention again.


He also models how He would have us show love and how that can happen when we go off script as He leads us.


Nothing is the same in a life when Jesus goes off script to reveal the truth and love we would otherwise miss.

Photo by Rob Blair






We Like a Script


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As you read this title, do you tend to agree or disagree?


Some of us are free spirits that like to take life as it comes and enjoy our days unscripted. It feels better to us that way and gives us room for doing what we want to do when we want to do it. We feel more relaxed when there is no “demand” for our time or a schedule.


The problem with that desire is that adulthood brings with it responsibilities and goals that interfere with most of our days being that way. Our employer usually has a time we are to arrive and leave, work that he is paying us to accomplish within a specified timeframe. We may not like the parameters but growing up means accepting more of our days will belong in this category even if days away from work give us more freedom.


Young adults fresh from college or other training are sometimes shocked to discover the new job they have is not always to their liking and find it hard to adjust after idealizing what this new season might look like. How we navigate that tension within us will be key to what follows.


We may well be tempted to pursue comfort at all costs rather than deal with imperfect armed-army-battle-894655working conditions, inconvenience, frustration, confusion, and more. We might be even more troubled if our faith walk convinced us that God had opened this new door for us and because of that we anticipated things would be going far better than they are.


Sometimes we really do like a script because we would like to skip ahead a few pages and see what happens next or how things work out in the end. It gives us the illusion that we may have some semblance of control over potential turns in the road that we do not like.


If we are trusting God with our life and direction, we can lose sight of this passage:


“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Isaiah 55:8-9 (NIV)


God’s path, interruption, or disruption of our plan for us may make no sense at all. Why would He take us this way? This certainly must not be the right script for me.


Once we start debating that in our head it inevitably leads us to what Larry Crabb says are three choices in his book When God’s Ways Make No Sense:

“Resist and run. Distort and deny. Tremble and trust.”


 Larry says:


“When we realize that God’s way of running the world and guiding our lives make no sense, tremble. Tremble before a God whose thoughts and ways are far above our thoughts and ways about what the truly good life is and how to live it. Feel our confusion. Own our doubts. Embrace our fears. Face our disappointment. Experience our anguish. Then trust…”


samme-mejias-narnia-11That can only begin to happen if we hold the steady belief that God is good. Saying that brings to mind those famous lines in the conversation between the beavers and the children in C.S. Lewis’ classic, The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, as they ask about Aslan and if he is safe. It’s perfect:


“Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”


 God knows us better than we know ourselves.


We look at the backside of a tapestry and it seems like the colors and textures make no sense as He weaves them into our lives. But He sees the opposite side and the stunning beauty of his handiwork.


You see, He knows what those darker threads and knotted places can accomplish in our lives to develop more of his character and fulfill his purposes. He knows that without them, the bright lovely colors and smooth textures we like so much will never really look all that spectacular.


He has the original design, created when He created each of us.


Does that mean we have no choice and are merely puppets?


Not at all, but sometimes when we do not “tremble and trust” and choose what seems like an easier way, we will actually add more knots and dark threads that could alter the better image He has in mind.


Larry Crabb points to why trembling is the best choice:


“Tremble before the incomprehensible God and trust that He is good. Trust that His love is committed to our growing awareness of the deepest and happiest well-being that’s available to us now, that His love will lead us into an eternity where we will know every delight we were created to enjoy. Gaze on the cross. Remember Christ’s death. Nowhere is the love of the incomprehensible God more fully and clearly displayed. But always remember: tastes now, the full banquet later.”


And remember that our finite minds could never have imagined the script that included a cruel cross for our ransom. That kind of love eclipses our capacity to fully grasp.






What Bertha Taught Me

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Taking a trail ride on a horse provides a distinctive lens to view the mountains that cannot be captured on the walking paths or roadways.


My trips West over the course of my life have given me more than one experience with this and in each case, the views were breathtaking and the horse fortunately knew the way to go and what it needed to do.


On my last trip to Yellowstone I had the prospect of taking one more such ride. I was not deterred by my age or the reality it had been thirty years since I had tried such a venture. That’s how I tend to approach adventures that peak my interest after spending a childhood where I was often too timid to try much of anything.


The morning came and the guide had chosen Bertha to be the mount for me. I still have no idea how a specific horse is chosen for a specific person. Bertha was named such as a result of her size, B-I-G! Her head was enormous and I could never have gotten on the saddle without the wooden platform and steps placed beside her for me to use.


As always, we were given only a few basic instructions. Be sure to hold the reins and pull back on the reins when you want the horse to stop. Don’t let the horse eat along the way. Check.




IMG_2578After all, horses used for such trail rides are trained and know the drill. I had also been assured that Bertha was not a young skittish mare that would be tempted to bolt or buck.


With all those basics under my belt, Bertha and I set out following the guide at the head of a long line of other riders. Bertha was doing well except for her temptation to eat along the way.


Fifteen minutes into the ride, our trek ventured down a slope to a small stream littered with rocks. Rocks were on either bank of the stream as well. Bertha started down the slope and into the stream stepping as carefully as she seemed to know to do. Suddenly she tripped and immediately dropped on her front knees into the water!


Wait!! No one gave me instruction for this! I know we signed a release about various things that could happen, but no one expected any of those things would.


As Bertha fell to her knees quickly, the time for me seemed to be happening in slow motion. I recognized that she was leaning to her left side and appeared to be going completely down beyond her knees. My reaction prompted me to try to get my left foot out of the stirrup as quickly as I could so my leg would not be pinned beneath her. I managed it just in time and my left foot found a fairly secure spot on which to land.


Next was that other foot and lifting my leg across the saddle as I felt Bertha steadily going all the way down. That was going pretty well also, but as my right foot hit the rocks it slipped into the water and then I lost my balance and there I was with my knees banging against the rocks, my left hand down in the stream and my right hand hanging onto one of the rocks, my body sprawled in the mix.

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Bertha seemed totally at ease! It dawned on me that it was almost as if she knew to go down just slowly enough after losing her footing to give me a chance to get off safely.


By now everyone was scrambling to find out if I was really okay or hurt in some way that might not be apparent. One guide was helping me up while another was helping Bertha.


I was given a choice to go back to the ranch or to continue for the two-hour ride. Since I was fairly certain I was largely unharmed save some bruises and a scrapped knee, I chose to continue on the ride.


Despite the fall, Bertha taught me I could trust her, that she knew her job was to carry me safely from the beginning of the trip to the end. I didn’t need to be the expert! She was! She knew the path!


Bertha also taught me something else.


In my life there is One who knows the path, is the Expert. He can carry me from the beginning to the end and I can trust that.


The Risk of Throwing Stones



Every family has its favorite stories of memories they enjoy retelling and ours is no different. We have a fair number between all of us that we chuckle over. One of my favorites relates to my grandchildren – actually four of them – from a number of years ago.


These four (two boys and two girls) were out for a walk in their neighborhood. As they were walking along some neighborhood boys began throwing little berries or pebbles at them (I cannot recall which they were.). The oldest grandson and first born told the other three to ignore what was happening and this would stop, but as they walked a bit further and it didn’t stop our youngest grandson and youngest of the four decided this was enough.


He took off running toward these ornery boys and yelling at them to stop throwing stones at his sisters. He was the smallest and youngest, but from birth has had a strong

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sense of justice.


And guess what?


These boys began running away even though they were older and bigger.


Throwing stones or berries can be risky but tempting on the part of children of any age. Those on the receiving end usually are intimidated so the ones doing the throwing see no reason to stop throwing stones.


As we grow up, we tend to give up throwing stones, but this morphs into throwing words in the form of criticism and judgment. They slip out of our mouths with ease within our homes, neighborhoods, workplace, church, and beyond. We sometimes frame them as our opinion as if it justifies us but tend to ignore that much of the time, we are blind to the log in our own eye.


Sometimes we point out little things that we label overtly or covertly as wrong when those things are just different than our preference. We move on from there to pointing out the flaws and weaknesses of others while ignoring or missing our own. We speak of the biases of others without recognizing they reveal the biases of our own.


accusation-anger-angry-984950We point to what we believe are the sins of others, the failure to keep a moral code of conduct, while forgetting or rationalizing our own sin. We seem to believe we are very righteous so that we can sit in the seat of judgment on what we see in the life of someone else.


Over and over again we are admonished in scripture not to judge others and we miss that this tendency to accuse others of wrong is part of our sin nature, our DNA from the Garden of Eden. We barely pause as scripture reminds us, we will be judged as we judge others whether that is a parent, child, neighbor, friend, leader, pastor, or politician.


I think it may be because we aren’t dealing with the cross – our need for it – in order to be reconciled with God. And it gets reinforced as we compare our own weaknesses or failings to someone else’s and inwardly or outwardly decide we are not as bad as this person we have judged.


The road of transformation is messy, and, in the middle, we go down rabbit trails throwing stones of one kind or another at others along the way. It becomes such a habit that we fail to recognize what it says about us to those who hear, to children who are watching.


Of all the passages in scripture that speak of the danger of judging others, the story in John 8 of the woman caught in adultery is one that leaps off the page. It seems clear she should be judged. She has broken the law, and everyone knows it and with stones in hand they are ready to mete out justice from what they see as the moral high ground on which they stand.



They miss that their judgment points to moral flaws as well, as does their self-righteousness. They forget the basics – sin is sin. We are all guilty, all in need of the cross, all of us struggle with bad choices even in the middle of transformation. We forget that Lucifer is known as “the accuser of the brethren” and when we step into that role, we are more like him than we recognize.


You may ask, “what about justice?”  Be assured there will be justice, but it will come from only One who is perfect and righteous in every respect.


It’s easy to see someone else is throwing stones whether they are stones, berries, or words, but the risk for us that we fail to recognize are those we throw.


To those standing with their hands full of stones to throw at the immoral adulterer in John 8, Jesus says,


“All right but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!”


Throwing stones can be risky.











The Best Way to Milk A Cow



Despite growing up on a farm, I did not have a great affinity for the animals that were a part of my daily life. Looking for eggs under clucking chickens that fluffed their wings with every step I took was not what I considered fun.




They were ginormous! I know that because when the fence that kept them corralled was not working and they decided to go exploring, my dad would do his version of a cowboy to get them back where they belonged. My job? If they ran in my direction, I was supposed to wave my arms, yell, jump around, and persuade them to go where my dad wanted them to go.


Cows and the farm fascinated Debbie, my city friend when I was in high school. On her first overnight at my house, she announced to my dad, “I want to learn to milk a cow”. My dad said that he would be glad to teach her the next day.


In the morning, we trudged out to the barn and my dad began to give Debbie all the steps she needed to follow. He patiently guided her step by step. He had been a farmer his entire life and certainly knew the best way to milk a cow. She seriously followed each step until she got to the one where she needed to touch the cow.


Suddenly, the reality of sitting on a milking stool beside a cow that looked like the size of an elephant made touching her in order to milk her quite daunting. Debbie would move her hand toward the cow and then jerk it back. She looked helplessly at my dad and said, “Make me do it”.


My dad laughed and told her there was really no way to milk a cow unless she would touch it. He patiently tried to help her, but after a half hour he and Debbie both realized this was not going to happen.


You see, the best way to milk a cow means you need to touch her and grab hold and squeeze in order to get the milk you want.


For many of us, our desires, hopes, and dreams have nothing to do with milking a cow and yet, like Debbie, we hesitate. Our fear cripples us and the voices in our head whisper over and over again well-worn lies that keep us stuck from ever reaching out and touching that thing, grabbing hold, and squeezing to get what we desire.


Going after that desire, hope, or dream is difficult and too often we want to cave in to the doubt and fear. If that thing you long for is a part of who you are, a part that the Creator put there, then it is something that requires bravery and courage to achieve and is worth the fight to reach out and do or be what captures your imagination.


Thinking about the thing you desire will not give birth to it.


You will need to fight past your fear and doubt, labor over the dream, have patience, and grab hold and squeeze to get the rich goodness your heart desires.


The best way to milk a cow or pursue any other desire, hope, or dream means you will need to reach out, touch it, grab it, massage it, and trust the One who gave you that vision at every step along the way.


You will get no milk if you simply sit on the stool beside the cow!


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