And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope.”
1 Thessalonians 4:13
I love surprises—well at least the good ones. From the time I was a kid, there were two things that rang my bell: gifts and a good surprise. When you marry those two together—well, it’s a good thing. One of my favorite memories center on a time when that happened. When I turned 40, my wife Judy arranged a surprise birthday party for me and we just had a great time. The gift thing was a little odd—you know, Geritol, Depends—the normal stuff when you’re being toasted at a party. My favorite perhaps was a horseshoe shaped toupee custom designed to fit my receding hairline.
Yup—there’s nothing like a good surprise—especially a Sunday surprise. I’m a pastor so around Christmas or perhaps Pastor Appreciation Month, it is not uncommon for the folks to give us cards and gifts. It’s great. You go to church and you get presents. I love it. Every once in a while, it’s a bit more random. That happened not once but twice very recently.
Several weeks ago, I was talking about grief and how the Bible says that people who follow Jesus grieve differently. According to Paul, the guy doing the writing, we don’t grieve like people with no hope. The reason for that is we believe the end doesn’t have to be end. That’s what Easter is all about. Well, to illustrate the point I said if I were to lose twenty dollars there would be two ways to grieve. One is the way I would grieve if it fell out of my pocket. It would be gone. No hope of recovery and no hope of getting it back. Adios, President Jackson. But if I were to put it in the bank, I might grieve that I can’t use it, but at least I would know where it was.
Well, it was a good illustration—now for the surprise. When Judy and I got home from church that day, we walked up to our backdoor. There, tucked neatly where the door met the frame, was a twenty-dollar bill. There was no note, no anything just President Jackson there smiling at me. To this day, I don’t know who left it but it sure made my day. But here’s why! Someone listened and just wanted to be a blessing. It worked. What a great Sunday surprise.
Guess what? It happened again a couple of weeks later. This time it wasn’t a portrait of President Jackson but something just as special. At Christmas time we have a nativity set. I shared recently in a Grits with Grace story how our nativity set includes a special guest: Scarlet from the movie “Gone with the Wind.” Years ago, someone gave her to us as an ornament for our tree. Well, my granddaughter added her to our nativity set about 17 years ago and it just seemed natural that she should stay. After all, a sinner like her, like me and like you is what Christmas is all about. You know, Baby Jesus came to save the world from all our brokenness.
On the Sunday before Christmas, I shared that story as part of the morning message. Now, fast forward a couple of weeks—the Sunday after New Year’s. Judy and I finished up with church and headed to the house. When we got to the back door, I looked down and there was a small box. It was wrapped in plain, brown paper and simply said, “The Taylor Family.” It was another Sunday surprise.
After lunch we opened the box and guess what was in there? It was another Christmas ornament from “Gone with the Wind” but this time it was, drumroll, please, Rhett Butler. Now in case you don’t know, Rhett was Scarlet’s beau in that movie. We laughed till we cried. We still don’t know who left it for us, but it made our day. Next Christmas—yup, Rhett will be by Scarlet in our nativity set. They both will remind us that Jesus came to fix broken people—just like them and just like us.
Both of those surprises were special because someone thought enough to reach into our lives with a special touch. It is appropriate that they happened on Sunday because it seems that is when God just loves to surprise His people. Often, we manage to make it to church after a difficult week wondering what could possibly happen that would make it worthwhile—make life more bearable. And then, it happens. A friend speaks a compliment to you. The worship team leads a song that reaches right down where you are and picks you up. The pastor chooses a scripture that seems it was written just for you that very day. And all of a sudden, you know why you made the effort to get up and go. God had a Sunday surprise just for you.
I believe God loves to do special things for us. He sends us love notes that just remind us that He is still there and that He still thinks mighty highly of us. Oh, don’t get puffy…it isn’t that we earned it or deserve it—it’s just the way He is. It is His nature and character and I just love it. So, whoever thought enough to tuck a twenty dollar bill in my door or somehow find a Rhett to be with our Scarlet—thank you for blessing us. You touched our hearts. And let’s be sure and thank God for all His special surprises He sends our way—not just on Sunday but every day. And don’t be surprised about this crazy world—just remember, “He’s got this.”