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Little Miracles- God's Common Grace

Dr. Chris and Alisa Grace pose for the cover of The Art of Relationships Podcast.

Does God still work miracles? Where can you see them in your own life? In today's podcast, Dr. Chris Grace, Alisa Grace, and Dr. Tim Muehlhoff explore miracles, both big and small and how we can see them better.

Speaker 1:    Welcome to another Art of Relationships podcast. We are grateful for listeners like you. Let's get right into it.

Chris Grace:    Well, it's so fun to be another podcast with the Art of Relationships with Alisa. Also to be here, Tim.

Alisa Grace:    Hello.

Chris Grace:    Our friend, Tim Muehlhoff, of course, previous co-host of this awesome amazing thing, and now current guest. Tim, we've been talking a lot about some of the things you've been doing. Since you haven't been on this podcast for a little while, you've been off doing amazing things, but one of the cool ones is writing a book about common grace. Eyes to see, right? And then that basic understanding of what does it mean for us to recognize God's common grace in an unsettled world, where recognizing, I think, is the right word, obviously. Someone thought through this. Eyes, seeing, because it's so easy to see God's grace in some situations, but Alisa, it's not always easy to see it in little things.

Alisa Grace:    Yeah. Well, I learned in the introduction of your book, Tim, you wrote this. You said, "The problem is that we have a limited understanding or a limited idea of what constitutes God acting in a world of pain and turmoil." We all want to seek God do the dramatic. We want to see the parting of the Red Sea. We want to see somebody's child raised from the dead. We want to see that miraculous healing. So if that's what constitutes our idea, and that's all we see, then we're missing a lot, aren't we?

Tim Muehlhoff:    Yeah. Well, I would agree. Many of my books start with talks. They start with sermons. And I just start to play around with an idea, so here's literally the opening of a sermon. I said to the congregation, "Which would you pick? If you could travel back to biblical times to when it's God in action, what would you most want to see?" I mean, imagine the possibilities. You shield yourself from the spray as Pharaoh's chariots are consumed by raging waters, trumpets blast as the seemingly impenetrable Walls of Jericho fall with a deafening thud. Your hair is singed as fire comes down from heaven consuming the prophet Elijah's sacrifices. Hundreds of Baal's prophets are silenced. Or perhaps you would opt for watching Jesus heal the leper, raise Lazarus, or feed the 5,000." I said, "Or how many of you would choose to watch early Christians collect food from the poor? Or help build sanitation systems for the city of Antioch? Or help Roman citizens during the plague of AD 165?"

Alisa Grace:    Wow.

Tim Muehlhoff:    I'm going to take the sanitation system. I think that'd be really cool. You know what I mean? So I do think we've been primed for the supernatural and I even mentioned some worship songs. Now, listen, I love worship music, but there are just certain songs that in one famous song we hear of these lyrics, "My God is able to save and deliver and heal and restore anything that he wants to." And then in another song, a person longs to have experiences on par with lion's mouth being closed, standing in the fire and walking through the flood waters. So then you're like, "Okay, I want to see that. My gosh, I want to live those kind of miracles." So then you read a book on common grace and it's like, yeah, but Antioch would be a mess without sanitation systems. And those Christians did a phenomenal job.

    And that was, now this is the controversial part, though I don't think so biblically, and if it is... [crosstalk] Bye bye podcast. It is as much God working, doing the sanitation system through the early church as it is Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. There's not a meter that says one's more divine than the other. And so God delights in working in planet earth, even though this is what the common part is, we have turned our back on God and we're reaping sadly, the negative benefits of doing that. And God could have said, "I'm done," but he doesn't do that. To saints and sinners he gives us fire and the starry skies to navigate and rain on crops. He did not turn away from... Psalm 145, the psalm that says, "God has compassion on all he's made." That's really cool news because just like find Waldo, there is common grace everywhere.

    And our job, as you said Chris, using C.S. Lewis' quote, "We need to cultivate these eyes to see." Lewis had this great response to a... Remember when the Russian cosmonauts went out into outer space and they said, "We looked and we did not see God."

Chris Grace:    Yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff:    And Lewis had a great response to say, "It really does depend on the person, because I bet you take a saint on earth who sees God everywhere, I bet you he'll see God in outer space." So we need to cultivate that perspective and notice and categorize the good things that are happening.

Alisa Grace:    Mm. I love that. A quote by Mark Batterson from The Circle Maker again, he said this, that God is great not just because nothing is too big for him, he's also great because nothing is too small. And when we look at the New Testament and we see Jesus and the way he lived his life, he wasn't in... Well, he did the big grandiose healings.

Tim Muehlhoff:    He had some good ones.

Alisa Grace:    He had some good ones, some pretty big notable noteworthy miracles, raising from the dead. But then he also was teaching at same time, "Don't sit at the head of the table. You need to come sit at the end. Wait to be asked up to the front." He often said, "You take the backseat. You do the small things," because he cares about those small things.

Chris Grace:    We keep referring back to people who have landed on the understanding of this. It always reminds me of taking a class here at Biola from J.I. Packer. We brought him in. He talked about the Puritans, and I'll never forget when he described the Puritans as this all encompassing faith of doing something, but what they would do would look at all awareness, activity, enjoyment, "All use of the creatures," he would say, was integrated in the single purpose to honor God by appreciating the little things. All his gifts. And making everything holiness to the Lord. So Packer says, "This was the Puritans," but he's talking about any group of people who recognized the small, who have eyes to see. So Tim, your book just came out. It's called Eyes to See. It came out in December of 2021, January 2022, and already it's having an impact. But this idea of how we see and how we understand and your field is communication, and you even have a connection with that as well.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Yeah. So God knows. I mean, unfortunately the power of language, it can be used for good or for bad. And he knows in a fallen world, we're going to get what we got today. We have argument culture today. We use words to hurt each other, alienate. The Center for Marriage and Relationship, we host this event on Valentine's Day called Valentine's Day is for everyone experiencing domestic violence, and we know that's verbal abuse, emotional abuse, often through words.

    So God needs to flood the human race with an idea of two things. One, I'm going to flood you with the idea of how much words can hurt, so be careful. But also, words can heal people. So we get this amazing proverb from the Book of Proverbs that life and death is in the power of the tongue, right? Most listeners know that verse. But he doesn't just give it to the Jewish community. He takes this idea and he sends it out to everybody. So one of the cool things about the book, is researching what other people have to say. Now, I want to stress. They have no communication with each other. It's like you're sticking people in different rooms, and they're all coming up with the same phrase, ish. I mean, Chris, we look at that and go plagiarism in a heartbeat, man.

    All these people plagiarized, because that's way too close. So listen to a universal appreciation of words from different traditions. Okay so in Hinduism, you get this idea from a Hindu mystic, "Words can comfort or hurt. It is our pride that makes us use words that hurt." Buddha said, "Words have the power to both destroy and heal. When words are both true and kind, they can change the world." Muhammad said, "Without knowing the force of words, it is impossible to know more." Sam Harris, a noted atheist said, "All we have to solve our problems is conversations. It's either conversation or violence." So you go, what? How are you guys talking to each other? Well, we know the chance of the Buddha ever coming in contact with the Book of Proverbs was almost nil. And yet the Buddha says, "Words have the power to both destroy and heal."

    I look at a freshman paper and say, "Kid, come here. Dude, you can't just sort of change a great quote like, "Life and death is in the power of the tongue.' That's plagiarism, and I'm going to dock some points." So that's my point about common grace. He's flooding the world because he knows how communication is going to be used to separate communities, marriages, families. And he's saying, "Listen, virtuous communication. I want to give you an idea that I also want to give you an idea when this thing goes south, words can really hurt people," and he gives it to everybody.

    Now of course we have to answer the kind of controversial point. Can we learn from other religions? The answer is yes. John Wesley once said to only think that you can learn from Christians is a great error because God's common grace has enlightened everybody. Now you certainly need to be discerning when you're reading the words of the Buddha. But, our good colleague, Gregg Ten Elshof, wrote a phenomenal book called Confucius for Christians. Again, saying, yes, you need to be discerning, but God has infused Confucius with wisdom and we know, as [Augustan] said, "All truth is God's truth."

Chris Grace:    I would also say Tim, you know what that made me think of? Can we use other ways and how could all these people land on the exact same thing? And the answer is, for me, I went to immediately John 1 who said, "In the beginning was the word and the word was God. And the word is with God. And then the word became flesh." I love how he used the word word to call Jesus. And he became flesh. And then he says, "And his dwelling among us. And we have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only son who came from the father full of grace." But anyway, the idea is if we see God's creation, we literally, he called the epitome of his creation, the word. The others have said, therefore, that which we use can bring grace, can bring truth, could also bring hurt and pain.

Tim Muehlhoff:    And being in the field of psychology, Chris. It's not that you have to say, "Oh, I'm sorry. I have to have a litmus test in the beginning. I can only learn from Christian psychologists. I can't ever borrow from other..."

Chris Grace:    [crosstalk] Non-Christian, that's right.

Tim Muehlhoff:    I mean, you have to be discerning, but God's given deep insight into the thoughts of some amazing men and women in the field of psychology.

Chris Grace:    And they may not ever recognize it and know it, and yet they are turning out things that have transformed human life to make it better, to make people function better, to think more clearly. And they don't recognize God in this, but common grace is saying, "I've infused this place with my glory, my benefit, whether you recognize it or not, or whether this guy recognizes or not."

Tim Muehlhoff:    So that's part of the book.

Chris Grace:    That's right.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Part of the book is, not just as Christians to be greatly encouraged, God's working 24/7, and to notice it, reframe it, but also how do you have conversation starters with non-Christian friends? Like how do you do that? And that's the cool thing about these just unbelievably cool stories, where you just kind of shake your head a bit. Okay, either that was an amazing coincidence or is there something happening in the background that there's a God giving... Roger Von Oech, he studies creativity. He calls him these aha moments.

    Do the aha moments just happen because creative people are creative people, or is it God just kind of nudging us every once in a while and pulling levers a little bit, giving you this kind of idea. I tend to think it is those kind of moments. And again, you can't prove God by common grace, but it's the conversation starter that leads you to the arguments that we have, why we think there is a God arguments. Why we think Jesus is God. I wrote a book with J. P. Moreland called The God Conversation, and that is your book on, okay, let's talk about the argument from design.

Chris Grace:    Natural law.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Natural law, the life of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus. So again, this book kind of goes before that book to kind of get you to the God conversation. And I think it has fundamentally changed how I view God [crosstalk]

Chris Grace:    Yeah, tell us a little bit about that, Tim, because you went in writing this book and all of a sudden now you're writing it, and I mean, you start to see things a little bit differently and tell us a little bit about that.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Well, it just greatly encourages me. Let's do the pandemic. I mean, when the pandemic hit, we're all just like, oh my goodness, family life conferences were canceled. And now we're just all kind of stuck. And a lot of this goes back to, and Chris, you've had a huge impact on me, about gratitude, about noticing things and being grateful. So here we are, we get hit with a pandemic. On a dime, everybody shifts to Zoom. Now all education is online. So then we started doing something that we could have done before a pandemic, but now the pandemic makes everybody realize this.

    So we did a couple things. We pulled together all of [Noreen's] family, scattered everywhere, and had one big Zoom get together. And then a friend of mine, Bill, said, "Hey, let's do this with friends from Eastern Michigan University." So we send out a word, "Hey, if you went to Eastern, was part of Was part of Cru, Campus Crusade for Christ..." Well, to sit back and say, "Lord, thank you." I just reconnected people via Zoom. We're in the middle of a pandemic, but Zoom has shrunk the boundaries. And now we can have these meetings with everybody. I like the idea of happiness research that walks a fine line of saying, it's not that you never see the bad anymore, because that's not realistic, but can you train your brain to see the first, the happiness? You know that one thing you showed me, it's a duck or an ugly woman? Well, research says you can actually train yourself to see one or the other. And I think what God is saying is you need to train yourself to see the good. Now we want to do that as good parents, right?

    "Yeah, I'm really mad. This sucks. This vacation sucks." It's like, "Okay, can we at least think of one or two or three good things?"

Chris Grace:    Yeah. That's really...

Tim Muehlhoff:    That's good.

Chris Grace:    Tim, by the way, it is either you see either a duck or a seal or a young woman or an old woman and not either a duck or an ugly woman. I just wanted to be clear.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Is it not a duck or an ugly woman?

Chris Grace:    I just want to be... It's so funny. Whatever, it doesn't matter. The point and the illustration stands. It's a good one, but I don't really know of anything where you can either see a duck...

Tim Muehlhoff:    So, I did a sermon that was being recorded. And my son, my middle son, Jason, loves The West Wing. He's a huge West Wing fan. So you know how you get an idea, Chris, like kind of spontaneously get this idea. I go, "Oh, this makes me think of a great illustration from The West Wing." So at least I did it and it rocked. I mean, it was...

Alisa Grace:    Let's hear it.

Tim Muehlhoff:    It was a...

Chris Grace:    No. He just...

Tim Muehlhoff:    Afterwards, Jason who's a West Wing aficionado came up and said, "Dad, that was part West Wing, part The Office, part Community, and I think there was some Les Mis." What?

Chris Grace:    What'd you do?

Tim Muehlhoff:    But Chris, it worked. It worked.

Chris Grace:    If the illustration works, it works. Why call it out?

Alisa Grace:    What are those little things that you put pieces of an animal together? You were reading about it last night.

Chris Grace:    Chimerics.

Alisa Grace:    Chimerics, yes, that was...

Chris Grace:    [crosstalk] head of a lion and the body of a bird.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Can you see an ugly woman or the Titanic? It's all the same, Chris.

Alisa Grace:    All depends on who's asking too, doesn't it? Noreen is saying, "Do you see a pretty woman or Titanic?"

Tim Muehlhoff:    Pretty woman.

Alisa Grace:    It is pretty woman.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Every time.

Alisa Grace:    Well, what you're saying too, I think reflects from Philippians 4:8, when he tells us, "Watch what you're paying attention to." You need to be fixing your eyes and your thoughts on what's true, what's good, what's noble, what's pure, because it's going to affect our ability and train our minds to see the good and to see God's common grace. Isn't that interesting?

Tim Muehlhoff:    So Corrie ten Boom tells an amazing story about this picture that's either a duck or a... She tells an amazing story.

Alisa Grace:    You can't tell jokes about Corrie ten Boom like that.

Tim Muehlhoff:    No, no, no this is a great-

Alisa Grace:    She's sacred.

Tim Muehlhoff:    No, this is a great story about Corrie ten Boom. So Corrie is speaking in a church and the name of her talk was Praise God for Lice. And people were like, "What?"

Chris Grace:    For lice, yeah, that's right.

Tim Muehlhoff:    So she wanted to lead Bible studies when she was in a concentration camp, and of course the guards would forbid that, but there was a lice outbreak and the guards would not go into the barracks for fear of the lice. Well, Corrie ten Boom was like, "Praise God for lice. I have everything I need to have a Bible study because these guards just won't come into this barracks anymore."

Chris Grace:    It's that amazing.

Tim Muehlhoff:    You know what I mean?

Chris Grace:    Yeah.

Tim Muehlhoff:    So it's not that you go with no context, thank God for lice. But it's like, but can I see the benefit of how God might use lice to redeem? That's the trick of the book is to begin to see and categorize things. And I tried to choose different topics. Like of course seasons are common grace. I mean, there's certain things that are just low hanging fruit, important as they are. So I wanted to ask questions like, "Okay, what about the arts?" In a world that takes everything for granted, how can God shake us?

    And art has a great way of getting around what C.S. Lewis called, "The watchful dragons of our defenses." And so even a show like The Office, a show like This Is Us, can bring in the biblical truth, or just plain truth, in a way that we probably would never go to church to listen to this or read the Song of Solomon or read First Corinthians. But you watch The Office where they're having this great wedding scene where Jim and Pam, we actually play this clip at Family Life Marriage Conferences, where this iconic, romantic couple finally does get married.

    They have a young child. Jim is going every weekend to his dream job in Philadelphia. They are in marital counseling and it's not going well. So he has to leave one more time to Philadelphia. And she's like, "Are you kidding me? You're leaving me again." But he forgets his umbrella on the desk, he runs out to the taxi. She sees it, she runs it out, hands it to him. He goes to hug her and she cannot hug back. Now all of you listening to the show, if you're married, there comes a time you can't hug back. The hurt's too much, the disappointment.

    So then they do a flashback to their wedding. And First Corinthians 13 is being read, "Love is patient. Love is kind. Love does not take into account a wrong suffering." She's literally hearing First Corinthians 13 in The Office, and she hugs him back. And I sat there and thought, "Man, you would've thought that was a Christian writer going, 'I'm just going for it.'" And it wasn't. But to me, that's God's common grace. The arts shake us, disturb us, in ways that we have to re-look at things. And that's, one guy, [Kuscow] is a art critic for the New York Times, he said, "Art is in praise of new revolutions." And I love that a piece of art can grab you and make you think about something you've never thought about before. And that's God's common grace.

Chris Grace:    Yeah, and it's a great chapter in your book, Tim, you did this with the idea of what common grace is, examples in day to day life, things that were low hanging fruit that are easy to see. The idea like a fire that people would talk about out in the mountains as the worst thing we could ever do. Stop forest fires from happening. And it turned out forest fires are the most important things in [crosstalk] because they allow the old growth to go away and new growth to come and sometimes new growth comes when things are what seem to be lost or burnt or gone-

Alisa Grace:    It's regenerative.

Chris Grace:    And it's regenerative. And your book then, I mean your chapters on things like communication and art, Tim, it's a great book.

Tim Muehlhoff:    And the immune system. Can I just throw that in real quick.

Chris Grace:    Yeah, please.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Because not everybody's as blessed as we are. Not everybody has the type of medicine that we have and we're all employees of Biola and have great...

Chris Grace:    Health insurance.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Health insurance. So what does God do in parts of the world that just don't have that kind of access? Well, he gives us an amazing immune system. And again, the immune system can be compromised by sin and even bad choices. But that immune system in the book was really interested to learn what a fever does. And sometimes we want to suppress a fever and doctors are like, "No, no, no, no, no. Let the fever do it's work."

Chris Grace:    Let it. That's right.

Tim Muehlhoff:    It is really helping you to recover. So God gives that indiscriminately to everybody.

Chris Grace:    And what's interesting is he's also given the physicians, Tim, to bring this full circle, the ability to take our immune system, a T-cell, create in it this, speaking of the word, chimeric, take this chimeric antigen, what they call receptor, a car, a T-cell, they take it out, they fix the T-cell up, your own, add a couple of little protein things, and guess what it does? It goes back in there and it attacks cancer. And right now they found some people are cured from leukemia based upon this researcher who took what God gave us as an immune system, but they had an insight. Like, "If I can take a T-cell and change it to go fight cancer." And then they release it back in the person's body. Well, that's common grace, God's work in this person's life as a physician, whether or not, it's then to use what God has done and create.

Tim Muehlhoff:    And penicillin was either one of the biggest serendipitous moments we've ever had, and I quote a medical historian who says, "It is the most useful, serendipitous, lucky moment in the history of mankind." We'd be in the dark ages without penicillin. Or you turn and you say something was happening there and it has divine fingerprints written all over it. But that's the cool thing about common grace, is you can kind of do either. It's almost like looking at a picture and seeing a duck or a chihuahua. It's almost like...

Alisa Grace:    And what does that say about you if you see the Chihuahua?

Tim Muehlhoff:    The chihuahua, I don't know.

Alisa Grace:    Oh, my gosh.

Chris Grace:    Well, I can tell you what it means, but this isn't the time for therapy right now. No, it's funny.

Alisa Grace:    Let me ask you one more thing, Tim, in your book, when you were talking about art in relation to God's common grace, one of the things you were talking about and you brought it up briefly was that TV show, that hit series This Is Us. And you recounted in the book really how those two main characters, Rebecca and Jack, they met, they fell in love, they had this big chemistry, they're traveling across the country, going to become big stars together, had a child, one that died. They adopted another one. But they're exemplified in this TV show and parts of it that Eros love that we have. That really passionate love. Why are we as humans so obsessed with that kind of passionate love? What in the world does that have to do with common grace?

Tim Muehlhoff:    That's a great question. And we're huge fans of This Is Us. And they're in the very last season now, it wrapped up. But I think the common grace aspect, Alisa, would be two parts. One, we are separated as C.S. Lewis once pointed out from our divine lover. So there's always a pull towards the divine love. He used a German word that we're separated lovers and that lover is God. So there's always going to be a pull towards the RO romantic because we're missing that. But second, the beautiful whole thing about This Is Us is it shows Eros love is not enough. Like they start off, this is amazing love story. And if we were doing premarital counseling, we would look at that couple and say, "Mm-mm (negative), no way are you going on a cross country trip with a Vietnam veteran suffering from post traumatic alcohol issues and he met you in a bar singing a song and now you're going cross country? Mm-mm (negative). Nope. We are not putting our stamp of approval on that."

    But the cool thing in kudos to the show, it shows you can't live there. And the thing that makes it work eventually they really do become really good friends. So I don't mind Eros, though we certainly are fascinated by it and focus on it way too much. But This Is Us kind of shows, they never would've made it without the friendship. Life was way too hard with the adopted children they have, and I won't blow... give spoilers, but their challenged as a couple, and they get through it mostly on friendship. And to me, that's a beautiful gift God gives.

    To say, I'm not anti-love, read the Song of Solomon. But remember in the Song of Solomon, she says, "This is my beloved. This is my friend." So God, isn't that great. He's bringing biblical wisdom in through This Is Us. Now there's a bunch of things in This Is Us that you go, okay, that's not good. But a bunch of things they do, like one guy is a model and he sleeps with anything that moves, and now he's to the point of going my life is as empty as you could imagine, though, he has money, looks. An incredibly attractive guy. I like to refer to him, a young Tim Muehlhoff.

Alisa Grace:    Of course you do.

Tim Muehlhoff:    But he's as empty as you could possibly be. And to me, that's common grace. That's like, hey guys, don't do this. It's going to be empty without me, everything is. So to me, that's a beautiful moment of God's common grace he's doing through primetime television, Netflix, Hulu. Now there's a ton of junk on there, but there's also, God has ways of getting his message in there somehow.

Chris Grace:    Man, that's good. Tim, thank you for being with us. One last thing, let me just show you a quick picture. Does this look like a duck or does this look like something else? What's your thought?

Tim Muehlhoff:    Sasquatch. I'm looking at a Sasquatch.

Alisa Grace:    Sasquatch. Chihuahua. I got to say that one.

Tim Muehlhoff:    It's been great to be back with you guys.

Chris Grace:    It's good to have you back. [crosstalk] All right Tim, everybody go get that book, man, came out literally just in 2022, at the very beginning, Eyes to See Recognizing God's Common Grace in an Unsettled World by our good buddy, Dr. Tim Muehlhoff. All right, good to have you.

Tim Muehlhoff:    Thanks guys.

Alisa Grace:    Thank you. Bye-bye

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