#161 (26/12/04)
God’s glad surprises

The Message

By: Robert H.Schuller

Special Guest

Heather Whitestone became the first Miss. America with a disability on September 17th 1994. Heather stunned the audience of the world with a ballet routine despite being profoundly deaf since the age of 18 months. In that moment she proved to the world that no obstacle is too big with hard work, determination and God’s help. Since childhood, Heather’s life has revolved around her ballet. And Heather considers herself fortunate to have had the opportunity to dance before forty million viewers at the Miss. America pageant.

Special Music

" O Come All Ye Faithful "
" Good Christians All Rejoice "
" Go Tell it on the Mountain "

" O Holy Night "

LISA TUCKER - "Who Would Imagine a King"
NEW SONG - "Sing Noel"

Acticle 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 book.

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!

Christmas, at 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!

So it’s 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 to Christ.

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.

You don’t 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.

Oh! Question 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 those pages.

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.

“This year 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 you card.
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 touched me.”

“At a time of the year when all of us are separated from our families you make it all the more bearable. Love, Mary”

“It is 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.”

“May the 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.”

Then Michelle 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 Choir.

“Of all 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.

Surprises. You’ll 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. Let’s pray:
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.

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