Interviewed by James C. Hendrix, Ph.D.
James: Why did you write this book?
Dennis: Part of my aim in writing this book was to sensitize people to the great lessons God puts out there in front of all of us every day. When I originally met with the editors from Kregel Publications about writing a devotional, they felt that the material I had was bigger than one book. They asked me about segmenting the material; so, the first book I wrote in the series (of three books) was Man to Man, which specifically targeted a male audience.
For the second book (More Than Meets the Eye), the editors asked me if I would write something that might impact the general family. I told them I had written some pieces that spoke about how people miss much of Godís universe and the miracles that are right in front of them. As we discussed the idea, I happened to say, ďThere is a lot more out there than meets the eye.Ē They thought that might be a good title for the book.
We decided to follow the same format we had followed for Man to Man: thirty-one chapters, one per day for a month. Readers can use the chapters on several fronts: They can use them as a daily devotional, or they might read a devotional and use the provided study guide to go more in-depth with a topic.
James: There are 31 chapters in this book, and each chapter focuses on the extraordinary work of God in ordinary circumstances. How did you choose the stories that you wrote about in each chapter?
Dennis: There were a couple of ways. First, I paid close attention to reader mail. If I hit a hot button with my readers, then I make a note to myself that this was a topic people were interested in, or it was a topic that hits a 21st-century need. The other way I chose the stories was through the suggestions of editors. Editors often tell me that they have been looking for stories like ones I have written. So, once again, Iíll make a note that these are stories I might include in a book.
James: Who is this book intended for?
Dennis: Anyone can read it, but I hope when Christians read the book, they will recognize that the lessons will give them opportunities to have discussions with non-Christians or other Christians. I want to give people material they can use to open up conversations, and stories often help us to do that. You canít just wave a tract at someone and tell him or her to read it. But if you tell a story, people are more likely to understand the point. Itís the same technique Jesus used, which was the use of parables and stories to communicate His messages. I hope this book will have a ripple effect, so that after people read the stories, they will share them with friends, neighbors, relatives, and co-workers.
James: In your book you show how ordinary items, events, and people can be used by God to achieve extraordinary things. Would you talk about that notion?
Dennis: The writer pays attention to what everyone else thinks is mundane. Writers have panoramic vision, but they also have microscopic vision. Writers understand the broad scope, but they also understand the smaller focus. As a writer, Iím always looking for the intense lesson in even the smallest detail. Iím trying to see what other people pass by. Once I bring it to their attention, they will laugh with me or nod their head. And thatís the job of the writer: The writer pays attention to minute details that the rest of the world skims by. Thatís the whole point of the book: that God gives us lessons every day, but we need to pay attention to them.
James: In the book you discuss a topic and then give your readers Scriptures to ponder and questions to consider. This is a fairly standard procedure for other similar books. How is your book different from others?
Dennis: I hope itís not too different, because what you described has been proven to be a good format. What Christian writers are doing is similar to what todayís church is doing. What has happened in the church is that in the past, people would attend a service and hear the pastor preach at them. They might go to Sunday school, and there they would get another lesson. Today, however, people in churches will suggest, for instance, that instead of having a Sunday evening service they all go to someoneís home to study together and talk and visit. Well, they need a book to guide them in their study. Or, men might get together on a Saturday morning for a menís prayer group, and they will need a book as a guide.
Todayís churches have more small-group Bible studies and interactive groups. Even Sunday school groups are more interactive. There is more group discussion in Sunday school today, where someone might say, ďHereís a take I have on that,Ē or ďHereís a thought I have.Ē Only in recent yearsĖfive to sixóhave devotions changed. There is still sharing of the devotion and Scriptures. But now the leader also uses questions that can be thrown out among the group to stimulate thought and feedback.
So, what Christian writers are doing is just a reflection of where the church is going. The church is now more open to discussion, more open to visitation and friendliness, and more open to fellowship learning. And thatís what my book does: It supplies the lessons and encourages people to generate discussion about those lessons.
James: People live such busy lives in contemporary society. What can we, particularly Christians, do in the midst of our busyness to see Godís extraordinary power working in our lives?
Dennis: I hope the book will encourage people to think that if I, the author, could find 31 amazing things, then surely they can find something during the week that is amazing. There are a couple of things people can do to more readily see Godís hand. First, they can look at what they do on a daily basis and ask themselves how they can do this a little differently so that they will pay more attention. I often encourage my students to drive to work a different way every day just so that they are forced to pay attention to a new neighborhood, a new set of street signs, or even different advertising billboards. If you simply start paying attention, you will be amazed at what you will see and discover.
The second thing I ask my students to do is to look at how points relate to one another in a different way. In other words, mix apples with oranges to see what you discover. Read books that you donít ordinarily read. If you donít enjoy biographies, read a biography. If you donít like history books, choose something in history and force yourself to expand and see how that lesson about history might impact you today.
It is important for people to think about what they can do to wake themselves up, whether by reading something different, traveling to different places, or talking with different kinds of people. As we engage in something that is different, we often change for the better.
James: Why do Christians and non-believers so often look for miracles, but fail to see Godís hand working in the smallest experiences
Dennis: Thatís a question I wrestle with as a Sunday school teacher. When we read about Moses parting the Red Sea or Peter raising the dead through the power of Christ, we think, ďWhoa, who wouldnít believe that?Ē Yet, when we look at the things that are small in the Bible, like Christ talking about having faith as small as a tiny mustard seed to move mountains, then I believe there must be a lesson in the small things. Thatís part of our problem. We get so many lessons from the Bible that focus on the monumental, we sometimes forget that God is also in the soft voice of the wind. So, I would go the other direction. Instead of just seeing the parting of the Read Sea, we also need to see God in the small things. Sometimes itís in the gentle breeze that God comes to us, but we need to attune ourselves to those small miracles.
James: You share a powerful story in the book about six of your friends who donated six pints of blood to take care of a hospital bill. It is a personal and heartwarming story about the birth of your first child while you were a doctoral student. Is it difficult for you to share such personal stories?
Dennis: No. I often use my own life stories in my books. Sometimes I wait awhile before I share them. When my daughter was born with a complete heart block, it was many years before I could tell that story because I was so choked up and overwhelmed about it. I did not write about my experience in Vietnam for 20 years, but when I became a little older and gained some perspective on the it, I realized there were aspects of it that had great lessons I could pass on to others.
At other times, I have the ability to laugh at myself. I believe people love you if you can laugh at yourself. If youíre the brunt of a joke, people not only appreciate it, but they trust you. When you share your personal stories with readers, they see you as being genuine. It makes you vulnerable, but thatís OK, because when the writer is vulnerable, the reader tends to identify with him or her.
James: What do you want readers to take away with them after they have finished reading the book?
Dennis: I hope readers will walk away and think the rest of the day about the lesson they read for that day. For example, going back to the lesson about the blood, I hope people will ask themselves if they have ever given of themselves that deeply or whether they have ever been that grateful to someone else. Or, maybe, if the person has never had that personal experience, I hope he or she will ask, ďIs there some way that intensely I can express to a friend or loved one how much I really love that person?Ē You might volunteer to take care of your neighborsí children while the husband and wife go out for the evening. I hope readers will purposely become self-sacrificial for someone elseís benefit.
I also hope readers will use the book as a door opening. They might think about someone who is going through a struggle, and then think about how a particular story might touch that person and serve as a way to open a door.