When The Unthinkable Happens
This morning we are finishing part four of a series we’re doing, “Trusting God in Difficult Times.” Part one was “Trusting God in Life’s Changes.” Part 2 was “Trusting God Through Trouble.” Last week in part three we sought to answer the question, “How do you trust when you don’t feel like it?” Well this morning I want to wrap this up by asking another very serious question. How do you trust God when the unthinkable happens?
I want to start by engaging you in a little survey. It’s in regards to television. I want you to vote your favorite genre.
We have one genre which is I would call unscripted television. Unscripted television. This is the reality shows. This is American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, Survivor, The Bachelor or The Bachelorette. Those shows are unscripted. They have no script.
On the other side we have the scripted shows: NCIS, Law and Order, 24, Breaking Bad, Downton Abbey, The Office. Those are scripted shows.
How many of you by show of hands would say, I like unscripted shows the best? I like the reality shows? The unscripted.
The rest of you, the majority, like the scripted shows.
Do we have any “Gleeks” in here? If you don’t know what a Gleek is, a Gleek is a fan of the show Glee. I’m guessing many of you don’t watch. It was the number one show in America in 2011 and 2012. It has won numerous Golden Globe and Emmy Awards. And will begin its 6th and final season this coming Tuesday evening.
Because the show centers around singing and dancing it has always been pretty popular around my house. But I have to say the concept behind it is pretty farfetched. Here it is a high school where the jocks and the nerds and the cheerleaders they’re all in a singing class and they all perform. They do these magnificent show stopping numbers every week. And the singing and the dancing is really good.
Here’s the deal. The secret to Glee, the secret to any successful scripted show, the ones you like is, the script. In Glee the people out in front of the camera are the ones that become famous and make all the money. But the genius behind the show is those who write the script. Excellent shows begin with excellent scripts.
For example I am holding the script for our youth musical’s production of Seussical. And even though it is not a TV show, as with the best shows on TV its popularity and appeal is because of the script and the cast of characters. When I look at the script I’m amazed at the details. They remove all mystery. There’s no need for ad lib when there’s a script.
Part one is the cover page. Then the cast list with all the people in the cast. Third is the location list where all the scenes are to take place. Then there is the song list, the songs they’re going to sing. Then there’s the actual script. This is pages and pages and pages of dialogue. They take all the mystery away.
Why do I spend time telling you that or even showing you that? Because today I want to get your mind around that word “script.” I want you thinking about your script that you’ve been writing for yourself. And the tension that comes in when you’re writing your script, where you’re the star of the show and you live happily ever after because it’s your script. And the tension that results with God’s script over here. In God’s script you’re not the star of the show. But you do get to play a supporting cast member.
Now what is God’s script? Well for those who follow God this is actually the script – it’s called the Bible – script-ture. And I’m willing to bet that even if you don’t know all that much about this my guess is you would be able to name the main character. The main character – God, Jesus.
And in this script as a Christian, as a believer, as a true follower of God our role is to be a member of His supporting cast, somebody who is trying to live God’s way.
And the plot of this script is pretty straight forward. In fact it is as simple as the little song that many of us learned when we were just children. You all know it, “Jesus loves me this I know… for the Bible tells me so…”
And that’s great. It’s great when everything is on script and running according to plan. But here’s the thing. There comes moments in everyone’s life when something happens that I’m going to refer to today as the unthinkable. I’m referring to it as the unthinkable because as you’re cruising through life and everything is running right according to the script, everything’s going well you never think this is going to happen.
Now unthinkable one is when we ad lib. I rewrite the script to do, “What I want to do.” This is where we choose to edit God’s story line according to what we want to do. How many would be brave enough by show of hands would say I’ve done that or do that. You’re not alone. We ad lib and we rewrite and say “God, I’d really like to be the star of the show. Since I’m not I’m just going to kind of take things into my own hands. I’m going to rewrite the story line. But God, you know I love you and I’ll give you some credit. You’ll be my creative inspiration. But on the marquee, although you might be down in the fine print, my name is going to be at the top because I’m going to rewrite it the way I want to do.” That’s unthinkable number one. When I rewrite the script the way I want to do.
I’ve been around long enough and I’ve met a lot of people. When people rewrite the script to fit them, here’s what happens. It may result in a few good episodes. But the following episodes don’t lead to a good season.
It might go something like this. Remember that episode where I went crazy and I just bought everything. It was so fun to go on that shopping spree. It was fun. A lot of people were laughing. But I didn’t really think through the later scenes where I would actually have to pay for it. That season got repossessed.
Remember the episode that I climbed to the top of the ladder of success. Yes I stepped on a few people along the way. I cut a few corners here and there and played it fast and loose. I was the Wolf of Wall Street so to speak. That one got great ratings until my shameful ways were exposed and I got fired from the cast.
Remember that adultery episode? That was good. That was hot. But when my spouse discovered that episode the season got canceled.
Or remember the episode – this one was viral. Everyone’s taking about this. The anger episode where I had the tantrum and man I really let that person have it both barrels. I put them in their place. People were talking about that one! That was great! What I didn’t count on was the damage and the scars my words and behavior left on others who have left the cast permanently.
When we rewrite the script to fit our lifestyle choices, it eventually leads to a painful season. Then when we’re living out the painful season, here’s what we typically do: “God! I’m hurting and I don’t understand why!”
That’s unthinkable number one – when we rewrite the script.
Unthinkable number two is when it appears as though God veers from the script.
This is when God doesn’t seem to act the way we think He should act or do the stuff that we think He should do. It’s when we pray and ask God to deal with a specific problem. When He doesn’t deal with that problem here’s what happens: we assume that He’s changing the script and it makes it more difficult to trust him.
So that five year old singing, Jesus loves me this I know…fast forward ten years and now he’s fifteen… Jesus loves me so darn much why did my dad lose his job? If Jesus loves me so much why did my parents get divorced?
Or fast forward some more… If God loves me this much why didn’t I get into the college that I’ve been dreaming about? If God loves me this much why did my fiancé break it off? If God loves me this much why can’t we have children? If God loves me this much why did I have to file bankruptcy? If God loves me this much why did my child or my spouse or my parent die at such a young age? If God loves me this much…. Fill in your own pain.
It doesn’t seem right. It doesn’t seem just. It doesn’t seem fair. Life was going along fine and now it’s messy. When life gets messy for a lot of us it doesn’t fit into our neat little Sunday school categories any more, does it?
Here’s what I’ve come to experience in my own life and what I’ve seen in other people’s lives. The most critical scenes of God’s scripts, are the ones that I didn’t see coming. I didn’t see them ahead of time. They weren’t in my script. But they were the defining moments in my life. When the unthinkable happened, either over here when I changed the script and I had to live with the impending consequences. Or over here when I felt like God changed the script. Those are the times when my faith and my trust were ramped up.
Faith and trust in God will not be defined when everything goes according to the script. Faith and trust in God will be defined when the unthinkable happens.
It’s easy to trust God when his script aligns with yours. But what about when pain happens? When the ad libs occur? When you experience hurt? That’s when faith and trust grows. That’s when depth increases. That’s when your faith grows stronger.
I know that concept is very difficult to hear. What you hear me say is you will be stronger, you will trust more, you will have deeper faith, you will be a more vibrant follower of Jesus Christ when there’s pain in your life. Randy, that’s not cool! For most of us when we wrote our life script we didn’t include pain in it.
Think about that. Go back to junior high creative writing class when you had to write out what you want your life to look like. Chances are it didn’t involve pain. I’m going to graduate high school and play every sport. I’m going to go to an incredible college. I’m going to get married. We’re going to honeymoon in the Caribbean. I’m going to go land my dream job and make lots of money. My kids are going to grow up and be perfect and get straight A’s and get scholarship. I’m going to retire in style and play lots of golf.
I don’t know what your script was but my guess is it didn’t include a lot of pain. What I do know is you really won’t know about life, about relationships, about true faith and trusting in God until the unthinkable happens.
I want you to hear the testimony of someone now who faced the unthinkable. It is my pleasure to invite Eric and Diane Hillyard to share with you their testimony…
Eric was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in March 1994, a few months after we were married. He was in shock, angry, and questioned “why me”? After going through a series of chemo, the disease went into remission for about six years. Additional chemo kept the disease in remission until December 2002, when he was sent to Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center where he was told that he had two options; either enjoy the next six months of his life the best he could, or enter a high risk research trial bone marrow transplant which would include only 20 participants in the country. Even though we knew that his chance of survival was only 25%, with his brother being only a half match donor (haploidentical donor), and this being a very high risk procedure, we knew it was his only hope. I took a 3+ month leave of absence from work to be his primary caregiver since I would have to be with him 24 hours a day while he was at Johns Hopkins; administering his regimen of medication, taking him to doctor visits, and basically taking care of every other need he could possibly have. He had BMT on January 16, 2004. The first 100 days after the transplant were the most critical; he remained completely guarded from everything and everyone, and lived in a completely sterile room with virtually nothing in it.
Eric had a source of inspiration other than me that helped to keep him positive and motivated; this inspiration was his mother. He would constantly focus on the “end game” (as he calls it) because he was anxious to go visit her due to her own failing health. He also had a great support system from other family members, friends, his co-workers, and his church. These people helped to keep Eric in the positive spirit. He always tried to have fun with whatever he was doing, regardless of how difficult or life altering it may be. While he was in the hospital, his outgoing personality allowed him to quickly become friends with nurses, caregivers, and other patients.
I never wanted this to happen to the person I love most, but I’ve had the privilege to witness Eric’s strength, his hope, his faith, his courage, and his determination. I can’t say enough good things about the transplant team. They really touched our lives. Eric was released from the hospital March 28th, 2004, and went to visit his mother on March 31st. She died on April 7th, seven days after his visit; so maybe she really was just waiting to see him one more time. We truly believe that she had hung in there, in her failing health, to see her baby boy one more time.
Eric just celebrated his 10-year BMT anniversary. His BMT doctor, Richard J. Jones, M.D., from The Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins, sent him an e-mail for his 10-year anniversary that said “You were a pioneer in haplotransplants which are now all the rage world-wide thanks to you and your fellow patients here at Hopkins”.
When you face an unwanted interruption in your life, focus your attention on Jesus’ wonderful love and let him lift your heart to grateful worship in the midst of pain.
What a powerful testimony! I can assure you that Eric’s script would never have included this plot twist. But did you hear what Diane said, “When you face an unwanted interruption in your life, focus your attention on Jesus’ wonderful love and let him lift your heart to grateful worship in the midst of pain.”
But here’s what I want you to understand so badly. Because for so many, many people when the unthinkable happens here’s what they do. They turn their back to God. They stop following the ways and teachings of Jesus. They leave the church and they abandon this community of believers.
I have met lots of people who used to be followers of Jesus. Used to be. They’ll see me out somewhere and go, “I recognize you. I used to go to Sterling.” Really? Where do you go now? “I don’t go anywhere. I’m not into the Christian thing anymore. I’ll bet there’s a story there.
And if you ask them to tell you their story 9 times out of 10 you know what you hear? People walk away and it wasn’t because there wasn’t good preaching. They turn their back on God not because they struggled with the historical documents of Jesus. They leave the church not because of some scientific arguments crumbled their faith to their knees.
They walk away because the script changed and they didn’t know what to do. They thought their life was like that high school musical where everybody sings and dances all the time and conflict is resolved in an hour.
But you know what? And I hope I’m not the first to tell you this. That was never promised to us. As a matter of fact Jesus warned us that we would have difficult times. In John 16:33 Jesus says “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart because I have overcome the world.”
The “take heart” means to trust, to hold on, to have faith. Because in the end Jesus wins. At the very end Jesus wins. You and I can’t see the entire script that He’s writing. But Jesus says, “I can. So take heart. Take heart in what’s happening. Take heart when the unthinkable arrives because I can see the end.”
What do you put your trust in? You don’t put your trust in the script that you’re living. That will lead to pain. You put your trust in the writer of the script. Let me be real, real honest with you. I’m not standing up here pretending that trusting in God is easy. I know it’s a very, very difficult thing. I also know that some of you here, you feel guilty in your life that you don’t trust God more. There’s pain in your life and you’re beginning to doubt and wonder and question. You feel guilty because you know you should trust God more. I know you feel that way. The reason I know you feel that way is because I feel that way at times too. I do! Occasionally I struggle with doubt and trust and it doesn’t come easy for me.
Is anybody with me, by the way? Guess what. For those of us who struggle with this, we’re not alone. We’re not alone in this room and we’re not alone in this book. Many of the Bible heroes struggled with doubt and trust.
I’ll point you towards one and I encourage you to further investigate this later. His name is John. He goes by John the Baptist. Not to be confused with John the Methodist or John the Presbyterian. This was John the Baptist. He was the one who baptized Jesus, who prepared the way of the Lord. And now at the end of his life the script has changed and he is in prison. Read his story as it is found in Matthew 11 which I have included there in your handout.
Here’s one of the great heroes of the faith that struggle with doubt just like you and I do two thousand years later. You might be thinking, “It’s great to know I’m not alone but help me in my trust. What do I do? What’s your tip here?”
The best advice I can give you learning to trust during difficult times is not my advice. It’s much better than that. It comes from God. It comes from the life of Jesus, the prayer of Jesus. The unthinkable is about to happen to Jesus. He’s going to die on the cross. So the night before he dies, he goes to a garden and he prays. In that prayer we see what you and I can embody.
Let me just warn you. You may be discouraged by the simplicity of this. But if you think about it, you will be challenged for the rest of your life for the difficulty of praying this way, really living it out. The response is anything but simple.
Here’s how the script-ture says it plays out. “And they came to an olive grove called Gethsemane, and Jesus said, ‘Sit here while I go and pray.’ He took Peter, James, and John with him, and he began to be filled with horror and deep distress. He told them, ‘My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and watch with me.’ He went on a little farther and fell face down on the ground. He prayed that, if it were possible, the awful hour awaiting him might pass him by. ‘Abba, [which is Aramaic for Father, Daddy] Father,’ he said, ‘everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will, not mine.’”
If you take your notes home and look that up in your Bible and you reread that, maybe it’ll hit you like it hit me. The God who can do anything with the script refuses to do the one thing that his Son requests. It’s almost as if Jesus is begging him, “God! Would you take this unthinkable away from me?” And He doesn’t. An innocent man dies a brutal death.
But here’s the key. The death of Jesus wasn’t the end of the story that God was writing. Can you let that just soak in? In some ways the unthinkable – the crucifixion – was just the beginning. And because Jesus trusted in God and faithfully played out His part and didn’t fall away when everything seemed to be falling apart, you and I – two thousand years later – we get to play a roll in God’s supporting cast because of what Jesus did on the cross. Because of the unthinkable on the cross.
You can imagine in the crowd, his mother and his closest friends, those who had been following him, seeing him on the cross, going, “This is it. It’s over. I can’t believe it. I can’t make sense of it. I don’t get it.” But that was just the beginning of the script that God was writing. Because of what Jesus did on the cross, salvation is available to you and to me.
And Jesus prayed six words. Six words that are life changing. If you can genuinely pray them and live them out every day. Verse 36 “I want your will not mine.” That’s it. That’s what trust is. I want your will not mine. It’s ok to say, “God! I want my script, written the way I want it written. I’m telling you in my heart I don’t want this unthinkable to happen. But at the end of the day I know that you’re a better script writer than me. And you have my good in mind. So I want your will not mine and I’m going to walk in the direction of obedience to you.”
This is what it looks like today, tomorrow, this week, this year. “God, I’m so ticked off at that relationship that went sour. I was so hurt by that. You know what I want to happen to them? I want pain to happen in their life. Actually God, would you please just strike them dead? That’s what I want in my heart. But I don’t want to live by my script. I’m going to trust that you’re a better script writer and I’m going to walk in the direction of obedience and not seek revenge on them. Because at the end of every day I want your will not mine.”
“God, I can’t believe that she has cancer! I can’t believe. I’m crushed. My soul’s in anguish. You are the God who can do everything. I know that you can heal her. But I don’t see the big script. I don’t get it right now. And as difficult as it is I’m just going to step in obedience and pray this prayer: I want your will not mine.”
Friends, as you do that, let me just leave you with one last thought to think about. Every day that’s what trust is: I want your will not mine. As you pray that prayer, as you step in the direction of obedience I want you to remember this: God never promised us glee. He never promised glee, but he did promise glory. He never promised glee which is this life of superficial happiness where everything is going to go our way and we’re just going to kind of skip across the stage of life. But he did promise glory. And glory is when we get his presence, when we get his power, we get salvation, we spend all eternity with him. That’s glory.
It really comes down to two prayers. You pray a prayer of control – “God, I want my will done. I want my script written.” Or you pray a prayer of surrender – “God, I want you script written. I want your will done.”
Which of those two prayers is going to characterize you?
God, may we be different people because we were here today. It is so difficult to trust. It even feels odd saying that to you, God. That sometimes it’s just so difficult to trust. We don’t get it all. We don’t see the script. God, we pray that we can learn from the example you set. That we would be men and women who walk out of here every day saying I want your will not mine. And that then we would walk in the direction of obedience. God, would you give us the courage to do that. Bring other people into our life to help us and to guide us. Thank you that you love us even when we doubt and we struggle. That your love for us is not based on where we live or what we look like or how we dress. But you love us because you created us and you’re calling us into a deeper and more intimate relationship with you. We ask for that in the holy name of Jesus. Amen.