August 29, 2015
I was in tenth grade on my way to basketball practice. Let’s be very clear here. I never actually “played” basketball… just went to practice and warmed the bench. (I don’t like when people claim things by insinuation that are not true.) Anyway, I passed the wrestling room and I noticed an adult I had never seen before wrestling with the team. I knew he wasn’t a coach so I was a little curious. I asked someone who he was and no one seemed to know. I could not have known on that day that the man I saw sweating on the wrestling mat would have the most profound impact on my life of any mortal man outside of my father. I could not have known that he ran a Christian ministry that I would shortly be exposed to where my entire life would be altered. I could not have known that he would be indirectly responsible for Ellen and I getting married, our children, and my calling into the ministry. I couldn’t possibly know all of that. On that winter day of 1969 he was just some guy on a wrestling mat whom I had never seen before.
In 1968, through a tragic set of circumstances, my sister Donna and I had to go live with my newly married father and step-mother. We started at a new school a couple of weeks into September. I remember well the day my dad took us to the high school to get us registered. But it’s the next day at the bus stop that’s seared into my brain. Naturally Donna and I were new to the neighborhood so we didn’t know anyone. And kids aren’t confident or forthright enough to go introduce themselves in those sorts of circumstances. If you have ever been the “new kid” at a new school or new community you know what I’m talking about. The awkwardness is so thick it can smother you. I couldn’t possibly know that some of the folks from whom I was avoiding eye contact that day would become dear, lifelong friends.
Our bus drove past the stop to turn around in a parking lot a mile or so down the road, so its eventual arrival was predictable. 30 seconds before the lights began to flash, another girl ran to the stop at the last second. She had been waiting in her house adjacent to where we were standing for the exact moment. I noticed her. But I could not know on that day that she was “The One.” I couldn’t know that she would preoccupy my mind for the better part of the next 4 years of High School while I waited for her to notice me. I couldn’t know that our first date would be my Senior prom, the only prom I ever attended. (One was more than enough!) I couldn’t know that she would write to me EVERY DAY for 2 ½ years while I was away in the military. I couldn’t know that she would one day say, “Yes.” I couldn’t know on that September morning in 1968 that she would dominate my thoughts for the next 47 years. And of course I couldn’t know that she would be the mother of my children. I just couldn’t possibly know those things while waiting to board a bus in 9th grade.
I’m going to guess that each of us can remember days when people came into our lives and everything changed. Life is like that. We have no idea when something will happen. A new set of circumstances… a person… an adventure… a diagnosis… an opportunity… a tragedy… will present itself/themselves and everything we’ve known is altered. We surely don’t wake up in the morning cognizant that something like that will happen. We just don’t know. And yet our lives are full of those occasions – good surprises and not so good ones.
The truth is, we worship a God of surprises. I always find those WWJD (What would Jesus do) bracelets to be somewhat ironic. I think those who wear them have either not read the New Testament, or they just haven’t thought about it much. Jesus’ life was full of the unexpected! I think if any of the apostles had seen one of those bracelets, their answer would have been, “Not a clue. Haven’t you been watching this guy!?” And yet so many seem to have all the answers when it comes to the comings and goings of God. Seriously!?
Exodus 14: 21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, 22 and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.
Sooooo… do you think Moses saw that one coming?
Genesis 22: 9 When they reached the place God had told him about, Abraham built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. He bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood. 10 Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son. 11 But the angel of the Lord called out to him from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”
“Here I am,” he replied.
12 “Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”
What do you think? Abraham was waiting for just that very thing to happen, right?
John 11: 38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said.
“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”
40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?”
41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”
43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.
Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
WWJD?! “Oh, he’s just going to raise him from the dead. Yep, that’s what he’s gonna do. Yes-sir-ee Bob. This is Jesus man. I know what he’s going to do. Yeah he’s predictable, my bracelet says so…” Trust me no one was expecting Lazarus to walk out of the grave. No one!
If you are looking for a predictable, certain, tame, inevitable, obvious Lord and God… well, the God of the Bible isn’t the place to look. The Bible claims a God who desires our worship, no matter what sort of surprises He throws our way – good and bad (from our perspective).
If you want a predictable God you need to follow the televangelists. They know everything. They wear gold bracelets.