On Faith: Signs from heaven are all around

Since you are reading this, it means you were not called up to heaven last month and the world did not end. The pastor who made the prediction about the world ending last month now says he made a mathematical error. I can understand making a math mistake. One of the reasons I became a pastor was to avoid ever having to work on a mathematical problem ever again.

But even if he was wrong on his timeline, the deeper truth is that all of us are looking for signs from heaven to give us guidance, purpose and hope. We miss most of the signs, of course. Signs from heaven are rarely found where we want them to be. Nor do they say the things we expect them to say. I think we miss much divine guidance because we expect God to behave in patterns that fit our own expectations and needs.

God is bigger than what we imagine. God's affection and grace is deeper than what we experience or truly comprehend. God moves in ways we do not expect, in ways we are not ready to embrace. In order to see the signs from heaven sometimes we have to be willing to change how we live on Earth.

Here's a personal example:

Our family was playing miniature golf in Big Bear. The course was old. There were no elaborate, modern or entertaining golf holes. I think this place was here before the ski resorts! The place was in disrepair. The tree roots were so big they had become a new set of obstacles on the course. There were real sand traps, mud holes and chasms in the fairways.

But my son, who never met a miniature golf course he didn't like, was having a blast. I was not having fun. I was losing. Losing! Me! At miniature golf! That's like Ben & Jerry's losing in an ice cream match. My entire family was beating me. I was complaining. I was whining. My only consolation was that this was a terrible miniature golf course, so it didn't really count.

But somewhere around the 15th hole, there was a sign nailed to a pine tree. The sign was probably as old as the course, but it had been maintained.

The sign read: "It's not the ball. It's not the putter. It's not the course. It's you."

This has become our family mantra. I offer it to you. It will save your life. It will save your family's life. Whenever one of us gets too self-centered, too whiny, or too concerned about blaming others, someone will say, "It's not the ball. It's not the putter. It's not the course. It's you."

It's an easy mantra to remember, and it can make us pause before we are about to say something truly foolish that we will regret, or say words of anger that will result in a mortal wound. This indeed a sign from heaven.

A sign from heaven in a miniature golf course! Who knew! I believe signs from heaven are all around us. We do not have to beg God for guidance. We do not have to live well or right or perfectly in order for God to help us out. We don't have to be religious or a church person (though it does help) to understand the signs. God is more than willing to give us the direction and purpose and hope we seek.

There are two cautionary tales about signs from heaven. First, signs from heaven are never simply for our personal benefit. Every sign — even including the healing miracles of Jesus — involved the recipient becoming a witness for God, or dedicating their lives to the service of others, or following Jesus. So do not be seeking signs from heaven unless you are willing to have your life radically changed for good.

Second, tragic death is never a godly act. When my daughter was in high school, one of her friends was killed by a drunk driver. He ran a red light, hit her in the crosswalk, and kept on going.

Despite the sadness, some good things came out of this tragedy. There was an entire class of teenagers that never drove drunk. Even now as adults, they always have a designated driver. They became a community bound together by mutual grief, and they all check in with one another on the anniversary of her death.

But none of these good things will ever replace that goodness that would have come from the young girl's life had she survived. The goodness of how her friends have lived in response to her death cannot justify the loss of her life. God did not intend or plan or arrange for her to die in the crosswalk.

The tragic and terrible things that happen to us are never signs from heaven. Jesus himself said he came to give us abundant life, and to make our joy complete.

Signs from heaven will always be loving and gracious because they are from a loving and gracious God. Otherwise, they are just mathematical errors!

MARK WILEY is the pastor at Mesa Verde United Methodist Church in Costa Mesa.

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