Exodus 15:2 - if we work through unwanted surprises and discover the gift inside - we will learn of God's goodness and character that we might not have seen otherwise.

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Remember that great little book by Travis Cottrell that I mentioned last week? It’s called Surprised By Worship and I said that I might do a book review for it because I knew you would like hearing (and learning) some of the content like I did.

At the time I didn’t think I would do it the very next week, but – you guessed it – I looked through what I had underlined in the book and then I couldn’t wait!

Plus, I thought the verse from the book just might make a great Mother’s Day gift – for next year of course – since I know you would never ever wait until this late hour to get a gift!

My Mom got her present from me last weekend when I went to visit. (Just trying to set a good example!) And she told me that she has been giving my printables as gifts. All you have to do is print them on good cardstock and pop them in a unique frame, and they will love it! According to my Mom anyway. I don’t think she is biased at all so let’s go with it.

Anyway, back to the book. It starts out with an Introduction by Beth Moore and you can tell that she thinks the world of Travis Cottrell.

She says, “I can tell you that Travis is exactly the man he seems to be when he’s on the platform. He has one of the most remarkable, God-given gifts to inspire people to lift their hearts to God that I have ever seen. I have been enormously blessed by sharing amazing worship moments with him where God has moved with astonishing power and presence in the lives of thousands of people.”

How would you like to have that said about you?

And by Beth Moore, no less.

The first part of the book is about those times when we are surprised by an unexpected act or provision of God – like when a prayer is dramatically answered or when an unexpected peace bathes you in a time of trouble or when God takes you by the hand and leads you in an unexpected direction.

I have often said I don’t know why I keep on being amazed when God blesses us these ways. You would think I’d get used to it and it would be old hat.

But I am amazed. Every time.

Travis shows in his book (yes, I am apparently on a first-name basis – probably because I’ve had his song as my ring-tone for several years) that God loves to give the unexpected. He loves to add surprise upon surprise to those who love Him.

Ephesians 3:20-21: Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Travis also covers the dreaded unwanted surprises. The kind no one looks forward to. Yet the kind that eventually come to us all.

He says, “I find it interesting that we tend to base our beliefs regarding God’s goodness and love on the nature of the surprises He gives us. As long as His surprises are happy ones, we remain confident and secure. But all too often unwanted surprises have a way of turning our theology upside down.”

Reminds me of my favorite quote that I had on my bulletin board for years and years. It was from the Bible study Experiencing God by Henry Blackaby and Claude King and I will never forget it …

Base your understanding of God on Scripture, not on experience.

Then Travis reminded us of the Hebrew slaves that Moses led out of Egypt. “As they left their cruel masters, they were elated. They were headed to a country God had reserved just for them. And they hadn’t had to lift a finger. It was all a gift. God did all the work. He is really good. He is truly a God of love. But suddenly things changed. They hear the Egyptian army coming and there is no escape because they were right up against the Red Sea. How could God have done this? If He really loved them, why would He allow such a thing to happen? But just as the people were ready to rebel and return to slavery, God had a really big surprise. He parted the sea and they scurried across to safety. And suddenly God is good again.”

In fact, Moses and the people burst into a praise song …

Exodus 15:2 NLT – The Lord is my strength and my song; He has given me victory. This is my God, and I will praise Him – my Father’s God, and I will exalt Him!

if we work through unwanted surprises and discover the gift inside - we will learn of God's goodness and character that we might not have seen otherwise.

Well, of course! Who wouldn’t praise God after what He had just done? But read on in Exodus and you’ll see that the Israelites’ praise was constantly off and on depending on what the Lord had done for them lately. When the good surprises came, they exalted Him. When the unwanted surprises came, they whined and complained and threatened to head back to Egyptian slavery.

Just like us.

Travis goes on, “Not long after the Hebrews left the Red Sea and marched on to the holy mountain, God called Moses up to its summit to give him the Law. When God descended to meet Moses, smoke surrounded the mountain, and thunder and lightning exploded from it. When the people saw this pyrotechnic display they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance.”

Exodus 20:18-19: Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.”

“They wanted God as long as He was safe. They wanted the good surprises, but if there was any discomfort involved, then let Him keep His distance, please. Moses, you go up there and learn all you want about God, then come back down and give us a filtered, sanitized version of what we need to know. If He has bigger, more complex purposes for us that cause us fear, uncertainty, or – God forbid – actual pain, we don’t want to hear about them.”

Can you relate?

I’m so glad these stories are in the Bible!

Insecurity often keeps us from getting closer to God. That He would move in a way we would have orchestrated differently bows us up and makes us resistant.

Travis admits, “God doesn’t always choose to reveal the why of our unwanted surprises. But are we going to reject His gifts just because we don’t like the brown-paper-and-duct-tape package they’re wrapped in? God knows that if we remove the wrapping – if we work through the unwanted part of the surprise and discover the gift inside – we will learn something of His goodness and character that we might not have seen otherwise. Something that can motivate our praise beyond our circumstances the next time an unwelcome surprise comes calling.”

Oh, I like that last sentence. We will discover something that can motivate our praise beyond our circumstances!

Do we want to grow?

Ephesians 4:15: Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,

A hard lesson may come, and I pray that we will steadfastly love Him through it. Like Job, let’s love God no matter what – come what may.

Job 13:15: Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face.

(Not on topic – but note that Job is not afraid to argue with God. He is big enough to take it.)

So what can we know for sure about God’s surprises?

Travis sincerely writes, “We can know that those surprises are always for us, never against us. They may be painfully unwanted, but desperately needed. Whatever they are and however they come, we can be sure that the Lord God, in His goodness, knows what He is doing.

It helps to remember that nothing is ever a surprise to Him. He is in full control. Knowing this gives us true peace in all circumstances. I want to find the Lord, submit to Him. I long to worship Him, even in the places where I wasn’t looking for Him. Even in the places where I never wanted to be. I know He will meet me there.”

Amen.

Now do you see why I couldn’t wait to share this book with you?

Travis Cottrell is all in. Come what may.

Now we should ask ourselves: Are we?

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