Open Your Eyes; God’s Miracles are All Around You

Open Your Eyes; God’s Miracles are All Around You

Apparently, in the city of the San Diego, if your car is parked in the same spot for three days—even in a residential neighborhood—it can get towed.

There I was, with a guy who couldn’t speak a lick of English in the passenger seat of my new-to-me car, and the car that I was going to sell him was missing.

So to this man, fresh from Italy, who had responded to my ad on Craigslist, I had to explain with made-up-on-the-spot sign language that I would try to find the car that I was trying to sell to him, I would pick him up again tomorrow, and we could try this transaction once again.

$900 for a used car might not seem like a lot of cash… unless you’re a part-time youth pastor at a tiny little church like I was at the time. But what seems even less than $900 for a used car, is $900 minus the $350 it costs to get that car out of the impound–$350 that I didn’t have to get that car out of the impound to sell to that guy for $900 minus the $350 I didn’t have!

This all took place on a Saturday. The reason I remember it was a Saturday was because the next day was Sunday, and I had to go to church with a smile on my face that was hiding the stress and anxiety within me.

Megan and I will never forget what happened at that service. It wasn’t any special day—my birthday, pastor appreciation day, or anything—but at the end of that “ordinary” Sunday service the senior pastor invited someone from the congregation to come forward and present Megan and me with a little money tree with leaves made from neatly tied cash that had been collected over the course of the previous couple weeks from members of this tiny little congregation.

And would you know how much money was given to us on that “ordinary” Sunday morning on that little money tree? Right around $350.

I won’t pretend that it was the exact amount to the penny that I needed to get my car out of the impound, but I remember it being so close that Megan and I were just shocked.

We knew we had just been the recipients of a miracle of God’s provision in our lives.

Did God whisper in someone’s ear that we were going to need money in a couple weeks? I don’t think so.

Did the amount of cash on that tree somehow change supernaturally to match the amount that we needed? I don’t think so.

I can find a thousand ways to justify and explain-away the coincidence of this experience.

But on that day, in that moment of anxiety and stress, whether it occurred by some supernatural intervention, or simply by the miracle of being surrounded by a family that we call the church, Megan and I experienced the miracle of God’s provision for us.

The truth is, when our natural tendency is to explain away experiences like this as mere coincidences, I think we miss the point. This tendency is based on a definition of “miracle” as something grand and unique that breaks the laws of nature.

I believe that this perspective hinders us from seeing the countless miracles all around us that are simply disguised in elements that we deem rational, scientific, or understandable. Does that make these things any less miraculous? I don’t think so.

God is constantly at work in our world and in our lives. It’s up to us to open our eyes. When we stop and recognize God’s gifts in our lives, we find ourselves looking at the world through a new lens.

god's gifts

So whether we receive a money tree to get our car out of the impound, or we simply find ourselves blessed to breathe another breath, may we be people who never take the miracles of God’s provision for granted.

 

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Dresses and Air-Balls: Logical Humility in a Black-and-White World


Two weeks ago it was a dress.  Some people claimed it was blue and black; others claimed it was white and gold.  So, who was right?

This afternoon it was a basketball shot.  Some people claimed it was goal-tending and celebrated the victory; others claimed it was an air-ball and mourned the loss.  So, who was right?
In both cases, the arguments played out all over the internet, on television, around water coolers and in living rooms.  Like most debates in contemporary society, everyone becomes an instant expert, offering their opinions verbally and digitally through such logically-persuasive means as the ever-conclusive “meme.” 
 
So, was the dress blue and black or was it white and gold?  And what about that shot?  Did the referee make the correct call by calling it goal-tending or was it clearly going to be an air-ball had it not been touched?
Yes.
Yes?
Yes.
But what do we do with “yes?”  We don’t like “yes.”  We want an answer.  Either it’s true or it’s false, right?  Not always.
Without going too deep into a conversation about Aristotelian logic, the fallacy of the excluded middle, or what “fuzzy logic” is, I simply want to point out that there are times in life when “truth” is not as black and white as we would like it be (or as black and white as those guys who wear the black and white stripes would like it to be!).  Often, we find ourselves in situations that are messier than the categories that we’ve set up to understand our experience.  When we can’t fit the grey experiences of life into our black and white boxes, it leads to frustration and anxiety.
What if we learned to become comfortable with the fact that sometimes life offers two (or more) equally valid experiences or options?  Imagine the potential for political progress if politicians would legitimately acknowledge the valid aspects of opposing perspectives!  Unfortunately, the alternative with which we currently live is a system of black-and-white in which a politician is either completely in favor or vehemently opposed, forced by the dominance of the two-party system that predetermines an individual’s platform as soon as they declare themselves a member of this party or that.
Is it easy to consider a reality in which multiple truths may be simultaneously offered? No, because it requires humility.  How can I admit that someone else is right when I know that I am right?
Does this mean that there are not times in life when things are black and white?  Of course not.  In fact, the “greyness” of life may even constitute a minority of our experiences.  The danger of viewing the majority of life through a filter of grey is that it leads to a path of relativism, losing any notion of right and wrong all together.  
In most cases, people can generally agree on the colors of dresses.  In most cases, it’s generally clear whether a basketball goes through a hoop or not.  But we do damage to ourselves and to each other when we view all cases like “most cases” rather than viewing all cases as unique.  
Opening myself to the possibility that the person with whom I disagree may be equally right in their opinion fosters a healthy relationship of respect and vulnerability.  Imagine the impact that this type of logical humility could have in a family, in a workplace, in a neighborhood, in a church, or in a society.
Now, if only I could convince the NCAA to recognize the validity of my opinion that the UCLA shot was clearly an air-ball, maybe they could at least create a rematch…  #PonyUp

Lessons From a Warthog: What a Zoo Taught Me About Judgment


This past week we celebrated Emily’s 2ndbirthday.  It’s been a great week with family in town, and cake and ice cream and presents.  Emily has been beside herself with excitement all week—it really has been the cutest thing.

She was particularly cute on Thursday when we visited the Dallas Zoo.  She had been to the zoo once before, but it was when her older cousin was visiting, when she was only a few months old.  So this was the first time that she had been to the zoo while she was really old enough to name all the animals and make their sounds and really know what was going on.

And she absolutely loved it.  
Each animal we saw brought a big smile to her face.  That sense of fascination and child-like wonder was in full display, and it was quite incredible.  
The cool part was, it really didn’t matter what the animal was; she loved it.  Granted, she had her favorites, but mainly because those were the ones that she was most familiar with from books and stuff.
For the most part, though, every animal she saw was as fascinating as the last.
She even liked the animals that weren’t officially part of the zoo!  Like when we were all standing at the flamingo display, trying to get her to look at the bright pink flamingos that were standing 30 feet away from us, she was fascinated by the little ordinary, brown duck that just happened to be sitting five feet in front of us.
Or when we were watching the gorillas in their habitat—which is one of my favorites—she saw a squirrel running around and was immediately glued to every move that the squirrel made.
In my experience as an adult at the zoo, I’ve already set up categories in my mind: which animals I want to see, which animals I don’t care about, which animals are beautiful and fascinating, and which animals are not.
For example, have you seen the Red River Warthog at the Dallas Zoo?  This thing was crazy looking.  I looked at the thing and and found myself thinking, “Wow, what was God thinking when he designed that guy??”
And just when I thought it couldn’t get worse than the warthog we came across the giant anteater.  I mean, really.  Look at it.
But did Emily care?  Of course not.  The only thing she would have cared about was whether it was awake or asleep, whether it was putting on a show by simply moving, or it was sitting still.
Did she know these animals were ugly?  Not unless I told her they were.  To a child, they we were just as fascinating as the last.  But to me, they were definitely placed in the category of ugly and crazy.
Unfortunately, it’s not much different than what we do with each other, is it?  We have this natural tendency to create categories.  We place each other in boxes of predetermined categories that limit the opportunities we give to one another based on preconceived judgments.  Even before meeting a someone and learning their story, we’ve judged them into a box.  
The real danger emerges when we pass on those prejudices to our children.  Emily doesn’t know that the Red River Warthog is “ugly” because I never told her it was.  To her, it’s a fascinating animal.  In the same way, the categories our children begin to form for other human beings are shaped the influence of the adults in their lives.  
Who are the people we deem “ugly” or “less-than” or “unlovable” or “crazy?”  And how are we passing on our own prejudices to the next generation?  
Instead, what would it look like if we learned from our children–if we looked at all of God’s creatures with the same benefit of a doubt with which Emily looked at all of the animals at the zoo?

My Storyless Story

I was almost literally born and raised in the church.  I was born around 9:00 am on a Sunday morning and my mother brought me to the 6:00 pm service that same day because my sister was receiving an award at church.  The same day!  
As I grew up in that church for the next 18 years of my life, I was surrounded by a community of believers, who raised me in the faith.
But one of the things that always bugged me as I got into high school and college was that I could never point to the moment that I became a Christian.  I was actually kind of secretly ashamed that I didn’t have a really cool story.  I had some friends who knew the exact day and time that they had decided to follow Jesus, and some even had a plaque on their wall commemorating what they called their second birthday.  
I would get really nervous that one day someone was going to ask me point blank when I had been saved and I wouldn’t be able to answer!
This really bothered me.  
The founder of the Methodist Church, John Wesley, was a huge proponent of the idea called assurance of faith.  This is simply the feeling that the Holy Spirit gives you to assure you of your salvation.  Wesley talked about his heart feeling “strangely warmed” the day he knew he would spend eternity in heaven.  
I had that.  In my heart of hearts, I knew that I knew Jesus.  I knew that I had a relationship with my Creator, but I could not tell you when I had crossed that line between not being a Christian and being a Christian.  
I heard stories like Saul’s conversion in Acts 9, of lives being instantaneously transformed, and I felt my like my storyless story just didn’t measure up.
Until… I got to seminary, and I took a class on evangelism.  The professor talked about the difference between the conversion experience of Paul and the experience of Jesus’ own disciples.
Whereas Paul’s experience was sudden and drastic, the disciples’ experience was gradual and messy.  This professor used the Gospel of Mark to show how Jesus’ disciples slowly came to the realization that he was the Messiah.  They didn’t start off knowing that.  They simply recognized him as a Rabbi and decided to follow him.  But the longer they followed him, the closer they grew to him, and the more they realized that this Jesus guy was waymore than they had initially thought.
And I bet, that if you were to interview the disciples at the moment that Jesus spoke his last words to them on earth and ask them, “So, when did you officiallybecome a follower of Christ?  When did you make that transition between your former life and your new life in Christ?” they probably would have looked at you and said, “I don’t know… I knew he was important when I started following him, but I didn’t know howimportant he was.  I can’t point to a specific day and time—I’ve just been following him and slowly realizing more and more that Jesus is the Messiah, the Savior of the world!”  
And at that moment in that class in seminary, I finally had language to describe my experience.  I didn’t have a story like Paul’s.  I had a story like Jesus’ disciples! I had been following Jesus my whole life.  And sure, there were times when I was following more closely than other times, but I couldn’t tell you the specific day and time that I made that transition from my former life to my new life in Christ because it had been slow and gradual.
Some of us have stories like Paul.  And that’s awesome!  

But some of us have stories like the disciples, and that’s okay too.