What Do Your Expect? (New Year’s Sermon, 2015)

This post include the sermon  text for the message I preached on the first Sunday of 2014 (January 4th) at the Patterson Avenue Baptist Church in Richmond, VA.

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What Do You Expect? – Acts 9:36-43

There is a little emotional game that many of us play in order to “survive” life’s occasional disappointments.  It’s called the game of low expectations. Here’s how the game is played.  Whenever we face a situation were we are hopeful for some particular blessing, we emotionally try to “lower” the expectation that blessing might actually occur.  The idea is this: if our expectations are low, it is less likely that we will be hurt if we do not receive the blessing.  On the other hand if we do receive the blessing then we get to play the role of the pleasantly surprised.

We are taught this game early in life, usually by a well-intentioned parent.  They are only looking out for our emotional well being when they suggest: “Don’t expect too much out of BLANK—that way you won’t be disappointed.”

What do we use to fill in the blank?

*  We are all set to ask out on a date the most popular girl in school!  Mom comes to us and says: “Don’t get your hopes up!  She might say no!  Just remember, there are many fish in the sea!”

*  We are entering the job market and have an interview with a top corporation. Dad says:  “Good luck and give it your best shot.  Just don’t put all your eggs in one basket.  Don’t tie all your hopes to this one job!  Make sure you have some other irons in the fire.”

The game came be applied to almost all aspects of our lives: from relationships to parenthood; from careers to investments; from politics to sports.  Wherever we go we live with a small voice in the back of our mind warning us to lower our expectations so that we might avoid the pain associated with disappointment.

Here’s what I’ve noticed.  The game of “lower expectations” really doesn’t work.  In the short term it might alleviate some emotional discomfort.  Over the long haul, however, it just becomes counter-productive.  I’ve learned that the longer I play the game the lower and lower I must place my expectations so that I’ll not be hurt.  You see, in this world we tend to get what we expect.  We tend to sow what we reap.  Low expectations usually leads to diminishing of returns.

The early church did not play the game of “lower expectations.”  That much is clear!  As we read the Acts of the Apostles we see something miraculous happen on almost every page.  We get some clues as to why from today’s text.  It says that the early believers lived in “the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit.”  In other words they stood before the majesty and glory of God’s with an overwhelming sense of awe.

In awe of God’s power the early believers expected God to do great things.

They expected miracles to take place. 

They expected the sick to be healed. 

They expected broken relationships to be restored. 

They expected that God would provide for their needs. 

They expected to see lives transformed by the amazing grace of God. 


The church of the Book of Acts did not play the game of  “lower expectations.” The early church lived in awe of God’s mighty power.  They church walked in the comforting assurance of God’s Holy Spirit.  As a result by faith they expected God to do great and wondrous things.

Look at the story again. 

The Apostle Peter was making the rounds of the congregation.  While traveling Peter kept a keen eye open as he looked for the movements of God.  He sought ways to share the gospel.  He looked for way that God might want to encourage the saints.

Obviously Peter had some lofty idea about the great things that God was capable of doing.  Perhaps that’s because he was one of the first to see the risen Christ.  Maybe it was because he was such a prominent spokesperson for the gospel on the Day of Pentecost, when God’s Holy Spirit was given to the church.  Maybe Peter remembered the promise of Jesus who said that his followers would be used by God to do even more miraculous deeds then Jesus had done.

Peter traveled among the early congregations expecting to see and experience great things from God—and his expectations were fulfilled.  It started as he entered a region called Lydda.  While there Peter was taken to a man named Aeneas who had been bed-ridden for eight years due to paralysis.  Prompted by the Holy Spirit, Peter declared: “Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you.”  Immediately Aeneas got up and was well!

Next Peter was called to nearby Joppa.  There a saintly woman named Tabitha had died.  So ask yourself this:  why did they call the Apostle?  Tabitha was dead.  Certainly it was too late for any miracle to take place. When you’re dead its all over, right?  Not if you are one of the Easter people!   I can’t say for sure why they called for Peter, but I don’t think they expected him to perform a funeral.

God had done some great things through the ministry of this woman.  The poor widows were weeping and holding the robes that Tabitha had made for them out of her compassion.  They wept and remembered how God had blessed them.  Now God was going to do even more by exceeding all their lofty expectations.  Peter entered the room.  He asked the women to leave.  He prayed to God, expecting the miraculous.  Then he simply said:  “Tabitha, get up!”  And She did!

I think it would be safe to say that “business as usual” was not the motto of the early church.   Those early Christian expected great things of God, and as a result God was able to accomplish great things in them and through them.

Why don’t we hear stories like this in the church today?  This was a question I posed to some folks in an online discussion.   There were several responses, each of which contains an element of truth.

Some said that God is doing the miraculous in our lives and in His church on a daily basis.  The problem is that we become so blind by the concerns of the world that we simply do not see what God is doing.  That makes sense, doesn’t it!  God is always at work in the world.  The problem is that without a deep and intimate relationship with Him we are unable to see where He is working.

Another reason that was given for the lack of such stories in the church is that we tend to be silent when it comes time to share.  God blesses us.  God works a miracle in our lives.  Something happens in our lives that can only be explained as a miracle of God, but we don’t share it.

Noticed what happened in the early church when God did the extraordinary.  It says that the news spread everywhere.  As a result the believers were encouraged and the unbelievers were converted.  Whenever you come into the fellowship of this church take the time to talk about how God is working in your life.  Testify to God’s miraculous dead.

Another of you said that our whole problem is one of faith.  God is not doing the unexpected in our midst because we don’t expect the unexpected.  We simply don’t believe that God is in the extraordinary business.

There is a tragic story in the scripture that illustrates this lesson.  Jesus had been traveling from community to community preaching the gospel, performing miracles, and healing the sick.  In one particular village, however, the Bible declares that Jesus could do no great work among them because they had a lack of faith.  Put another way—they had low expectations resulting in diminished returns.

Has God retired?  Has God taken a vacation?  We Christians would hardly put it that way, but sometimes don’t we live as though we believe that God is actually not as force to contend with.

That’s even true sometimes when we come to the church. 

In contrast to the record in the Acts of the Apostles, nearly two thousand years later we Christians are counting heads and calculating bank accounts to get the work of the church done.  Our church committee meetings and especially board meetings resemble meetings of corporate boards or political groups much more they do meetings described in Acts.  It we can’t staff it or pay to get it done, we don’t try it.  In our attempt not to be seen as doing anything foolish or impractical, we put a gag order on God.  We plan and work as though everything depended on us.  When we pray we ask God would help us to do this or that.  Rarely do we pray or believe that God is actually capable of doing something on his own.


A pastor told me:  “Whenever we try to accomplish a God-size task using human strength, we are doom to frustration and failure.  A God-size task required God’s strength.  It requires that we trust and depend on God.”

Jesus said the same thing.  “I am the vine,” Jesus said, “and you are the branches.  If you remain in me and I remain in you, you will bear much fruit.  Apart from me (however) you can do (what)—NOTHING.”

So perhaps there is a place for lower expectations in our lives and ministry.  If we are determined to do God’s ministry in our strength maybe we ought to lower our expectations down to nothing.  You see, without Jesus we can do nothing.  If we abide in Christ, however, our expectation ought to be high because we can depend on God to do the miraculous.

Many of you probably remember or at least heard about the “God is dead” movement that infected so many college campuses during the 1960’s.  One of the probable causes for the brief popularity of this idea was the way that so many Christians lived their daily lives.

One college professor put it this way:

“Practically speaking, most people in the church are really atheist.  They may verbally confess a belief in the existence of God but then they go about their business and play as though God were not a forced to be reckoned with.”

Sounds like a rather shocking evaluation of the contemporary church, doesn’t it?

Is it true?  Ask yourself these questions:


How often do you take God’s will into account when you make decisions? 


Does God’s will figure in what you buy in the department store? 


Do you seek God’s leadership when you decide where your family will live?


Does the Holy Spirit of God play any role in where you go on vacation? 


Does God have a place in the parenting of your children? 


Does God have a place in your family budget?


Is God’s will explored when it comes time to change jobs or careers?

For most Christians today God’s will is absent from these kinds of discussions.  We don’t expect that God is or even wants to be involved in the events of our daily lives.  Instead we simply regulate God to a few hours each week in a church building.  Our expectations of God power and presence in our lives are quite ordinary.

If this is where you are today I want to remind you about the central tenet of our faith.  Jesus Christ was crucified, dead, and buried.  Did that end the story?  NO!  On the third day Jesus rose again from the dead.  There is nothing ordinary about the resurrection.  Since this is true we, as people of the resurrection, should live our lives daily expecting the extraordinary.

This morning is the first Sunday of 2015.

As we move forward from this day we need to be a people who are dedicated to expecting the unexpected.

We need to open our mouths to share testimonies of praise about how God has been working in our lives and in His church.

We need to view life with Easter vision so that we can look and see the power of God at work in our lives, in our church, in our community, and in the world.

We need to find that intimate connection with the gracious love of God so that we can be equipped to lead others to faith in the risen Christ.

We celebrate our past.  But more important than that we also look toward the future IN FAITH expecting great things from God.

Expectation Hangover: Overcoming Disappointment in Work, Love, and Life
by: Christine Hassler
publisher: New World Library, published: 2014-10-14
ASIN: 1608682412
EAN: 9781608682416
sales rank: 62487
price: $13.69 (new), $15.18 (used)

When our expectations are met and things go according to plan, we feel a sense of accomplishment; we feel safe, in control, and on track. But when life does not live up to our expectations, we end up with an Expectation Hangover. This particular brand of disappointment is profoundly uncomfortable and can cost us valuable time and energy if not treated and leveraged effectively.

Christine Hassler has broken down the complex and overwhelming experience of recovering from disappointment into a step-by-step treatment plan. This book reveals the formula for how to process Expectation Hangovers on the emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual levels to immediately ease suffering. Instead of wallowing in regret, self-recrimination, or anger, we can see these experiences as catalysts for profound transformation and doorways that open to possibility.

Often it is only when life throws us a curveball (or several) that we look in a different direction and make room for the kinds of unexpected things that lead more directly to a life we love. By the time you finish this book, you’ll understand why your Expectation Hangover happened and have your own treatment plan ? a clear course of action to pursue your goals while preventing future disappointment.



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