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The word 'unexpected' has been in my heart a lot over the past month, so it was no surprise when this morning, in the context of a family situation I don't need to go into, I received an email titled 'The Unexpected'.
It was in Seattle that I had a dream which centred on this single word. Dreams of course are one of the normal ways God uses to speak to people. This particular dream stood out for its sheer oddness. I won't recount it, but suffice to say that the word 'Unexpected' featured in a positive, not negative way.
A few days later I was driving from LA to San Diego and listening to local radio stations. Probably I was praying, singing and remembering as I often do while driving my normal car (I consider all cars to be miniature, mobile prayer rooms). I thought, "Wouldn't it be funny and SO LIKE GOD if that word 'unexpected' was somehow confirmed on the radio?" No sooner had I thought it, than an advert came on air:
"We interrupt the expected to bring you ... the Unexpected!" [Next came the ad, which I can't remember, as I was so stunned and joyful and celebrating at that point. After which came this:] "We now return you to the Expected!"
The Expected. The Unexpected. And God.
So what's the message? Firstly, I think, to expect the unexpected with God. Our god is emphatically NOT a god of the status quo. He loves to break in, to surprise, and yes, to turn things completely upside down. If you're not into adventure yet, get used to it, because a time is coming and has probably arrived when the unexpected will become the norm. Yes, we must expect the unexpected. If that last sentence reads like a contradiction, pray this prayer right now:
Lord, show me the truth about what it means to follow you. If in some part of my life I am settling for the status quo, the ordinary, the expected, when you have something MUCH MUCH better, give me eyes to see, ears to hear and a heart to receive your purpose in its entirety. I repent of shrinking back. I repent of my unbelief. I receive the unexpected, the extraordinary and the new things you have for me today, right now in Jesus' name.
The expected, the mundane and the ordinary are not wrong. Much of life is like that, whether it's washing your underwear or brushing your teeth (though not at the same time; that would be both unexpected and unhygienic).
Yet the unexpected moments we have - the good, the bad and the ugly - are times when we need to engage our spirits with God's Spirit and ask "Father God, what are you doing right now?" Perhaps it's a family emergency. Perhaps it's a sudden opportunity. Perhaps it's the knowledge that someone you hardly know is sick. Perhaps it's the sudden gravel chips on your windscreen. Perhaps it's the flashing blue lights on the other side of the motorway. You get the idea.
(Can the unexpected actually come from Satan and not from God? Absolutely. The enemy's schemes are laid bare in Scripture: he comes "to steal, kill and destroy" (John 10). Surprise is undoubtedly one of his weapons. In the last week, I have known two unexpected events which I personally believe were demonically inspired. However, what is meant for evil, God intends for our good (Gen 50:20), which is why our response to nasty surprises can and must be one of joy and faith, not fear and anxiety. "Father, I would not have chosen this, but show me where you are in this situation" is a great attitude to have. He wants to turn every curse into a blessing for your life!)
I encourage you to watch out for the unexpected in your expected daily routine. At those moments, shoot up an arrow prayer from your heart and ask the Father what he's up to. Don't be surprised when you get an answer back. At the end of each day, review that day with the Holy Spirit. It may only take a couple of minutes. Ask him to reveal anything that jumps out at you as, well, unexpected, from your day and invite the Lord Jesus Christ to apply any lessons learnt to your heart and life, so that you can carry that blessing forward into the day that's yet to come.
It's a wonderful way to live. You can face problems with joy if you learn this lesson well.
San Francisco is an unusual and unpredictable place. I'm not just talking about earthquakes, but the colourful character of the city itself. For example, its weather does not conform to the four seasons. The city will often be overcast and cool in the summer with morning fog, but by contrast the fall (autumn) period is normally sunny or blisteringly hot with mild clear nights (learn more). However, don't assume that you can predict the local weather with forecasting; on the day I was there the famous fog was blowing in the opposite direction to usual for that time of year, a phenomenon which our tour guide kept commenting about that he had never seen it before.
Suffice to say my one day in the city was jam-packed and a lot of fun. Basically dawn to dusk with around 5 hours' total travel to get there and back. I took in as much as I could and the best review is the picture gallery I posted. I wrote there that the sea lions are a good metaphor for the way the city embraces those whom others reject, and this is definitely a hallmark. SF, it was a brief introduction but God has incredible dreams and purposes for you.
A few observations, first impressions really, about Sacramento. I was there for 2 nights and 0 days, so I'm no expert. But I am struck by the way that the capitals capitols of the three States I've been through seem to be practically invisible.
I don't know the answer, but I do believe that their 'quietly elevated' status is no accident. People have suggested to me that the more famous sibling cities in each state should really be the capitals, but I'm not so sure. I believe God has a plan and a design for each and every place, and the higher-profile cities may not necessarily be meant to lead their respective states in the governmental sense.
Anyhow, wasn't this blog meant to be about Sacramento? Like I say, I only saw it in the darkness but my notes would be:
These are all clues to God's purpose for the city.
And incidentally, the first initials of the states I am passing through spell COW. Just so you know.
You may not have heard of Bakersfield, and neither had I until Plumbline Ministries mentioned it on a teaching set. Precisely because of its low profile, I was excited to pass through it en route to Sacramento yesterday. Nothing shouted out at me, except this beautiful globe sculpture.
Here's what I had heard about LA before arriving: traffic, crime and Hollywood. Thankfully I avoided the first and second, and enjoyed the third. But not before my trusty sat-nav had sent me to the wrong 'Washington Blvd'. Not much chance of sleeping on an industrial estate in East Los Angeles! Probably my mistake, I hasten to add - I'm just glad I didn't end up in Mexico instead.
I had quite a long time in LA: two nights and a whole day in-between! Still I managed to cram in a very satisfying visit on that single day. Santa Monica was calling me, so to speak, and I continued my triathlon training with a run along the beach. Good for the old Vitamin (pronounce the first syllable like the first personal pronoun when in the US) D levels and it felt like a very Californian thing to do. I got a bit carried away and ran 5.5 miles. That was comfortably (or, perhaps, uncomfortably) my longest run for quite some time.
Lunch was at a cafe opposite my hotel where I was struck by the friendliness of the staff. After my purchase, I was personally sought out, engaged in conversation and welcomed to the area, then given a map without prompting on my part. I asked them 'What do you do if you have two and a half hours left with your rental car in LA? What must I see?' They gave a scenic option and an entertainment one. Since I wanted to find out about the character of the city, of course I chose Hollywood.
Beginning with a drive down (or rather up and along) Mulholland Drive, I went past the houses of lots of famous people I've never heard of. The views either side of the ridge were stunning. Then down to Hollywood Boulevard for a quick stroll down the legendary 'walk of fame'. I must have missed my name there as there were so many other wannabe stars on the sidewalk, but there was a lone blank star which I think stands for how God sees the rest of us - we are all celebrities to Him.
After returning the car, there was an unexpected twist when I began to wonder if I had got DVT - deep vein thrombosis. A red patch on my calf after a long haul flight, which can be a symptom, though not normally in isolation. A few phone calls, a taxi ride and a private health appointment later, I got the all clear (and from a doctor in whom I am confident) and that was my introduction to healthcare in the USA. Another moment to stretch those faith muscles.
The next morning, I caught a taxi (the driver was amazed how fast we cut through the downtown area) to the beautiful Union Station, whose interior is truly something to behold. However, being me, with cheesy bagel and strong coffee in hand, I headed straight for the quiet garden outside - which I had all to myself - before boarding the bus and heading towards Sacramento. Goodbye LA, it was a nice introduction.
Seattle to San Diego was North to South and Winter to Summer. Landing first at Los Angeles airport I had a disconcerting moment when the sat-nav I had been loaned needed some coaxing to realise it was no longer in Seattle. That would have turned a two-hour drive into a 19-hour drive. But eventually the TomTom did its thing, and now I had wheels. Drive on the right, right turn on red, unless prohibited. Drive on the right...
For someone who doesn't do all that many church services, it was kind of funny to find myself at two in one day - Westgate Seattle in the morning and Victory Outreach San Diego in the evening. In San Diego, it was great to re-connect with my old roomy Anthony from LBC days and his family, including their latest gorgeous new arrival. We literally only had one evening to connect, and Anth took me downtown for a late night coffee and gave me an overview of the city. It's the second biggest city in California, and also the oldest. Yet San Diego feels very open, very pleasant, with touches of artsy creativity, and completely lacks any sense of hustle and bustle. I didn't make it to the 'Old Town' part of the city, but did cross the water by ferry to the more exclusive Coronado. The return leg of the ride featured a quite spectacular city skyline once the sun had set. With a balmy climate and a deep, natural harbour, you see huge cruise ships docked in San Diego, alongside some mighty military vessels.
This slightly crazy journey up the west coast is taking me through five cities in eight days. I'm only expecting to get a taste of each place I visit and to meet friends old and new. Someone once commented that I like to do several things at once, and it's true. Being boy-racer-minded does help when you want to get around and do lots in a very short space of time.
Being a matter of minutes from the Mexican border, I couldn't resist the opportunity to glimpse beyond the fence. Parking at San Ysidro and strolling nonchalantly past the slightly scary US cops - they have a kind of 'cold' authority - together with a one-way stream of Mexico-bound pedestrians, I got to the clicking metal security gate, the point-of-no-return, and suddenly wondered whether the men in blue would let me come back. Thankfully not a word spoken and I avoided deportation on this occasion.
A very happy new year to you all! I arrived in Seattle a few days ago and am now flying way down south on a bit of an adventure. Thanks to Virgin America and Google I can post this note from 39,000 feet above the West Coast of the USA. Over the next 8 days I'll be travelling up the coast from the deep south to the far north, by road, train and plane. The trip will take me from San Diego to LA to Sacramento to San Francisco to Salem and back to Seattle. I feel very blessed to be receiving the gift of this trip. Thankful for the past, but not defined by it, looking ahead and hungry for more. May 2010, and the nine years following it, be full of all the adventures God has prepared for you.
Three interesting facts about the way the New Testament writers speak about 'church':
Tonight, a friend showed me his copy of Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola and George Barna, which I believe covers this in detail. Provocative title, I know. One goal of the book is to distinguish truth from tradition, and chapter 1 asks a superb, if uncomfortable, question: 'Have we really been doing it by the book?'
May my inbox overflow
With blessings and grace
Receiving all that is purposed for me
From the hand of my Father
Purified by spam filters
And godly discernment
May my outbox overflow
With blessings and grace
Initiating and responding with wisdom
Putting others' needs before my own
Patiently and not in haste
Being life-giving, not box-ticking
May my eyes see with the vision of God
May my fingers move with the joy of God
May my heart overflow with the love of God
May my head think with the mind of Christ
And my breath be the wind of your Spirit