of The Message
Well if you don’t
think God is in the planning of these ministries think of
this. I planned a sermon this morning on Christmas means
surprises. And my guest, unknown to me, is the author of
a new book, “Let God Surprise You: Trust God with
Your Dreams.” Now wouldn’t you think we’d
planned it that way? And that’s a surprise to me that
my sermon would tune in so beautifully with her fabulous
Yes, the Bible
verse that I’m leaving with you this morning is Isaiah
43, verse 19: “Behold, I will do a new thing.”
It’s great. “Now it shall spring forth. Shall
you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.” What a profound, positive
prophecy from God referring to the coming of Jesus Christ
His Son. “Behold, I’ll do a new thing.”
Surprises. God deals in surprises.
If you think
you’ve never experienced God stop and think of all
the surprises you’ve had in your life. Surprises that
came out of the blue and they were so beautiful in the shaping
of that moment or that day or that week it lifted your mood.
The telephone call; the hearing of your favorite music on
the radio that you hadn’t heard for a long time and
it put a tear in your eye. Where is God? God is with us
constantly all the time. And we say God loves you. Prove
it. Think of all the surprises He has given you. That’s
the love of God. Wow!
the beginning was a big surprise to Mary. You see the Glory
of Christmas, it’s stunning how you see this young
teenage virgin Mary and an angel comes. Touches her and
says, “Mary, you will conceive and bear a child.”
Wow! Was she surprised? And then Joseph, to whom she would
become a wife and even before their betrothal he would be
surprised. “This Mary that you’re engaged to
marry is pregnant.” What? What? And it will be an
act of God within her. Talk about a surprise, Mary and Joseph.
And that’s just the beginning of it.
But then the shepherds in the field when the angel appeared
and then a host of the angels. God operates in the surprise
zone. As long as there are pleasant surprises that occur
in our life we cannot sensibly, intelligently deny the existence
of someone beautiful cares about me and that someone is
God. And the baby is born.
And every baby
is a bundle of surprises that will be unfolding in the days,
then the weeks, then the months; the first step, the first
word. Babies, surprises. So surprises come in mangers in
Bethlehem. Surprise, they come in the baby wards of the
hospitals. They come in the sick wards too because some
surprises are wrapped in bandages, not swaddling clothes.
And what looked like a tragedy turned out to be a blessing.
Had a nice visit
the other day with Rachel Kelly. Many of you know Rachel.
Rachel and John moved down south and they’re.. built
a gorgeous house on extensive acreage just outside of Julian,
then the fire came. And we tried to keep in contact but
their telephone was cut off and anyway, they were quite
sure their house had burned to ashes. And then someone,
riding on an upper ridge, was able to look down and saw
their house was still standing. So they rejoiced.
Well they came
out the other day and we had breakfast. And Rachel was so
enthused. She said, you know we always look down on the
forest. It was so wonderful, but the trees are all gone.
But she said, guess what? Now there’s a green hue
and for the first time we’re looking like in Switzerland
over what’s going to be a green meadow and they’re
telling me that lots of these sprouts of green are seeds
that had probably been there for decades but now the sun
is shining on them without the shadows and they’re
sprouting. And they’re telling us we’re going
to have the most beautiful spring with flowers that we have
ever had probably in a hundred years. God’s surprises,
oh, they’re all around us. Wow!
Christmas time. Going to be surprised when you open your
gifts? Or have you been peaking? Because Christmas surprises
come, you know, they come in gifts that you did not expect
or contacts, connections, calls, letters, greetings. Christians,
your call and mine is what? To let God surprise people through
us, and when people meet us they’ll say, ‘I’m
so surprised.’ Yeah. Let us become the channels through
which God can surprise them with faith.
I did a little counseling session this week. A man and his
wife; they’re from a distance eastern state. And their
letter to me touched me deeply and so I said, yes, I want
to talk to you. And they came and they shared their life
story which is really phenomenal. I don’t have time
to get into it except she said, and that’s the reason
I made an appointment with them, he’s never belonged
to a church. He’s never professed a faith and is not
religious but he watches you every Sunday and I think, Dr.
Schuller, if he could meet you maybe he would make a commitment
So I saw them
and somewhere, maybe in the whole call, she said, he’s
afraid to die. He was in Vietnam for a year and he lives
under the fear of death. He doesn’t know what’s
next, after that. Oh, I said, I can help you there. And
I took out one of these little blue cards that my son Robert
has had printed calling it “My ticket to heaven.”
The Bible verse of Jesus, “Him that comes to me I
will in no wise cast out.” That’s the surprise
of Christian grace.
have to come to Him with a clean slate. You don’t
have to come to Him and live a perfect life thereafter until
you die. No, come to Him, receive Him as your Savior, that’s
it. I took that little card and I showed it to this gentlemen
who never made commitments and I read it to him. The promise
of Jesus then the words are printed, “Jesus said it,
that’s the truth. I accept it.” Room for a signature.
I handed it to him and said, ‘now, sign it. If you
sign it you’re in.’ He said, ‘I’ll
sign it.’ His wife gasped, I think. He took my pen
and he signed it with tears in his
eyes. Was she ever surprised. Yes, surprises, that’s
what Christmas is.
before we conclude all of this: can we position ourselves
so that we get more surprises than normal? Go where the
opportunities to be surprised exist. Let me illustrate.
This is for the benefit of people who don’t live here
in Orange County, California. When I came here 49 years
ago we took the road over a bridge and there they said,
that’s the Santa Ana River. Santa Ana River? There’s
no water there. Anyway it’s a wide, shallow ditch.
Wide, dead, no water, never was water until there’s
a huge rain. Then the rain hits the mountains, the water
suddenly comes down the mountains and that ditch catches
the water and takes it to the ocean and a day later it’s
no water. Well if some young boy was taught if you want
to catch fish you go to a river. Well if they went to the
Santa Ana River they would never catch any fish. Or, if
you want Marlin you don’t go to the Floyd River in
Iowa. You go to Cabo San Lucas in Mexico. Or the channel
right here outside of L.A. Go where the fish are, if you’re
fishing. Go where the opportunities are. If you want to
increase surprises from God, go to where the likelihood
is He’s going to connect with you there. And where
is that? That’s in church every single Sunday. I would
urge every one of you to get into the habit of going to
church every Sunday, never miss. And you’ll come home
and you’ll say, ‘boy, am I glad I was in church
this morning. I heard something I never heard before; or
this person saying, and boy was I deeply moved.’ Never
miss a Sunday. Don’t know you might miss a surprise.
Read the books
where God is in, Christian books, most of all the Holy Bible.
Read the Bible. I can’t tell you how many times reading
the Bible I got a bright idea. It was God coming through
Get into circles
with people that are positive, that believe, that follow
Christ. Choose your inner circle of friends carefully. Make
some decisions. Some of them should go, they’re negative,
they’re cynical, they’re critical, they’re
sarcastic. There are sinners in this world. Yeah, try to
convert them but, don’t let them convert you. How
do you increase the possibilities? Accept invitations that
come to you that if you accept these invitations to do something,
go somewhere, be something, give something, you’re
increasing the opportunities for surprises.
You know, I got a wonderful letter the other day from a
teacher in our Crystal Cathedral Academy, 300 students here,
and there isn’t a Christian school quite like it.
It is fabulous. And she said to me, or this letter.
at the Crystal Cathedral Academy each class has to take
part on a mission. Not just any operational mission but
a mission for Christ. So we were given an opportunity, if
we wanted to, to glean for the 2nd Harvest Food Bank. Field
gleaning, I told the kids. What’s that, Miss Ceyhan?
the 2nd graders answered me. I explained to them that they
have corn fields here and the corn is all picked but then
there’s an ear that may fall here and another ear
that may fall there and they don’t hire people to
pick it up. If we want to go there and pick up those pieces
of corn we may do so. And then they’re put into what’s
called a 2nd Harvest Food Bank which is a charity here in
Orange County. And what happens then? one of the kids said.
Well, these crops then are fed to the mouths of less fortunate
people. Wow! Kids said, sounds fun. So we all went out to
the corn field in Irvine, California. When we arrived the
field was damp, misty and foggy but that didn’t stop
these 2nd graders. Why, we were warmly welcomed by a Mr.
Sam, a representative from the Charity Food Bank. The kids
jumped off the bus and just couldn’t wait to grab
the buckets and begin filling them with the freshest, sweetest
yellow corn. Mr. Sam explained to them, he said, you see
these big bins over here? When you get your bucket full
you run back here, dump the corn in the bin. Now each bin,
he said, if it’s full, will feed up to 2,000 people.
Well by the end of the day our 2nd graders picked enough
corn to fill 4 bins, that’s 8,000 people. They were
wiping the sweat off their brows, dumping the heavy corn
filled buckets into the bin and you should have seen those
little hands. They were scratched, muddy, back they went
again. She says, you know this is only my 2nd year teaching
but I can’t even express my words on paper the joy
and compassion on those children’s faces every time
they emptied those buckets filled with corn. The love of
Jesus just shone through those little faces. They learned
a big lesson: the joy of caring for others and the joy of
doing something that surprises you with good feelings.
Go where the
opportunities are. You know, this church, for over 20 years
has done something, no other church has ever done it. We
package boxes for the prison in Chino, 20,000 boxes, cookies
and cards and letters. But I was surprised this week with
one of the most beautiful surprises. I said to my wife,
you know, I think I’ve only gotten maybe one or two
letters in the 20 years we’ve done this. This year
I got a letter. This is made by women in Chino Prison. They
had to use their own dimes and nickels and dollars to buy
the paper and to buy the painting. And then they made it.
The cover is: “Count your gardens by the flowers,
never by the leaves that fall. Count your days by golden
hours, don’t remember clouds at all. Count your nights
by stars, not shadows. Count your years with smiles, not
fears. Count your blessings, not your troubles. Count your
age by friends, not years.” And this is one big thank
I’ve got some notes there. “Thank you, Dr. Schuller,
and friends and family. Love from our family at the California
Institution for Women.” All of these hand written.
“May the Lord bless you for your generosity. This
is my eighth box this past Christmas. Every one of them
“At a time
of the year when all of us are separated from our families
you make it all the more bearable. Love, Mary”
the only gift I receive.” From Carol.
Laura says, “You
take time to recognize us as people, not as prisoners. Still
a child of God, not merely an inmate.”
Lord bless you. This is my eighth box this past Christmas.
Thank you.” Cathy.
Lavelma says, “For nine years I’ve been blessed
through your ministry of giving.”
says, “I came here to prison in 1989 at the age of
21. I thought my life was over when I received a life sentence
longer than I have been alive. My first Christmas here I
received your box of love. You have made.. I have made many
mistakes yet God’s mercy is evident. He has blessed
me with the opportunities to express my remorse to the victim’s
families and some have extended forgiveness. Miracles happen
through God’s love.” Michelle.
Here it is. The biggest thank you Christmas card I ever
got in my life. And the card is for you. Dozens and dozens
of these beautifully packaged and then they also had another
card, a little smaller. And this is it and this is for the
the music that reaches farthest into heaven, it is the beating
of a loving heart.” That’s pretty nice. And
here again, pages, thank you. How do I say thank you for
everything in the church? But the music is wonderful. Oh,
choir, that’s a thank you to you. Johnnie Carl, thank
you to you.
get cards, greetings from people you never knew. You’ll
probably have an experience like that man had in my study
this week. He’d been an agnostic; he’d been
a skeptic. He’d played with that long enough. Make
a commitment to Jesus Christ. Accept Him as your Savior.
Let Him become your best friend. I’ll tell you one
thing, you’ll never be afraid of death. And you will
have the biggest, ultimate surprise of your life. What you
see when you go to the other side I think it’s real.
I’m ready for it. You can be too. Merry Christmas.
Thank You God that you’re at work in the world and
You’re at work in our lives and we thank You for surprising
us with a Savior in Jesus Christ. For surprising us with
so many wonderful thoughts in our lifetime. Somebody’s
watching, somebody’s listening, I don’t know
who they are. But they’re making a commitment this
Christmas to simply accept Jesus Christ as their Savior.
Bless them, oh You will. Surprise them, oh You surely will.
Thank You, Amen.