Full of Surprises

Many of us do not like surprises. For the most part, I am one who does not. Well, okay maybe a birthday surprise at the end of a meal at my favorite restaurant. We all know, though, my wife’s early trip to the ladies’ room includes a brush with our server, if you know what I mean. So, that hardly counts as a full-fledged surprise. Plus, there are all kinds of surprises, and some are harder to keep a surprise than others. I certainly would like to have foregone the recent surprise by the I.R.S. And maybe I am too cynical, but the people I know would not be able to hide their cars from viewing to surprise me as I walked in the door to a party—that is stuff for television.

Maybe that is just me; but I know other people who feel the same. Perhaps it is the fear of the unknown or part of our desire to always be prepared. I was never a Boy Scout—a Royal Ranger once—but that seems like a good mantra to have. Surprises take me out of control. It would seem, I suppose, that I like a little more control than I think I do.

Now, even though I would rather avoid most surprises there is something I think is important for us to realize about our calling as God’s people, and it has to do with surprises. No, please do not surprise me at an administrative board meeting. We are all trying to get out in time for lunch! (Kidding) For those of you who like surprises this might make perfect sense. For the rest of us, well we should be able to appreciate it too.

First, let me share this story with you: Pastor Gives Away Prize Money

A pastor made an appearance on a game show, something he tried to do more than once, and won a pretty good amount of money--$180,000. His intent from the very beginning was simple: give most of the money away. He had a friend who was in financial need. That is exactly what he did. He gave away $160,000 to his friend. Of course, this made news. I imagine people’s emotions varied from shocked, inspired, set-off or even, dare I say, surprised.

So, let’s trek back to our little discussion on surprises. I think we should be surprising people. Paul demonstrates what I mean (Romans 12: 9-21).  Most of you probably have Bibles with headings.  I'll give 1,000 points to the person who comments first what the heading is.  Here is what Paul has to say:

9 Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honour. 11Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ 20No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’ 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

I imagine the pastor’s friend was surprised he followed through with it. From the story I gather the host and studio audience were surprised, as well as everyone who heard about it. Who would do such a thing? I know--a person full of surprises.

What would most enemies expect from each other? Probably behaviors that are enemy-like. You have seen enough war movies and crime shows to affirm that. I would also suspect that someone who wrongs another is sure their actions will be repaid by wrong as well. You know we love that eye for an eye stuff.

Oh, but how wonderful it would be if we could surprise people! That is, I think, what Paul instructs us to do. I know people who think Paul is full of other things, but our in-your-face apostle has some great words to live by. Do not repay evil with evil—anyone can do that! And just what is evil? Paul mentions it several times in Romans. In my experience, people tend to think of evil as the Boogie Man. I am not convinced Paul was a horror flick kind of guy. The evilness he refers to is somehow related to his heart. It is, often, something he does. There seems to also be a real sense of an effect his evilness has on others. You know Paul was a man of the real world. He tells us: do not repay evil with evil. How many times have you heard the phrase, “Oh, they are going to pay for that one.”

Think about that. Sure someone bad-mouthed you, but what does your bad-mouth response do for your relationship with that person other than further the tension? It does not really make us feel better, does it? Please remind me: Your unwillingness to forgive does what for the kingdom of God, again?

Paul tells us to feed our enemies, to live peaceably with others and show honor to others. Face it,that would be very surprising of some of us. You know who you are. Think, though, of the good our surprises could do. Even for someone like me who says he does not like surprises can appreciate how our world could change if we surprised people more. If someone surprises me like that it helps me to consider what my attitudes and/or responses are to them.

How do we become more surprising? Well, God’s transforming love makes us a surprising people. There is no other way to explain it. Quite often, the evil I do not want to do is what I find myself doing. There is no way I am doing this on my own, and that should come as no surprise.

How about you? Has the love of God been revealed to you? Are you someone who talks, believes or depends on the love of God? If not, let me assure you it is a powerful love.If you have, then this question is for you: How full of surprises will you be?

Stay blessed...john

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