What you (think you) see is (not always) what you get


This week’s reading for me reminded me of a funny … but life-saving story a buddy of mine told me recently. He’s got a really nice house in Lake Arrowhead, a mountain resort-type town near us in SoCal, but early on when he and his wife bought it a few years ago they did some major remodeling. Apparently, the neighbors around the area are the cozy type and periodically would pop in to have a look at the work in process.

One day when my buddy had just completed a workout he went back home and found some such neighbors perusing the house. His first reaction was to hustle upstairs to shower and hang out in their bedroom so as not to have to deal with the lookie-lou sort … he just wasn’t up to dealing with strangers and felt pretty disinterested. But something chafed at him and was prompting him to go downstairs and be a little more sociable than he wanted to. So down he went to meet the folks that turned out to include the neighbor next door, who he obviously hadn’t met to that point.

Fast-forwarding … some months later my buddy was in his house at one point and was beginning to feel poorly. He was starting to wheeze and have a hard time breathing. It quickly became worse and worse, until at one point he was beginning to panic and signaling to his wife that he needed to go to the hospital … which was not close by. Just then … my buddy realized that the next door neighbor that he didn’t want to deal with … was a DOCTOR. He somehow got the word across to his wife, who ran next door and thankfully the neighbor was home. He ran over and examined my buddy, and determined he was having a pretty sketchy allergic reaction that was shutting off his airway, and was going to kill him if too much time passed. Fortunately, the doctor had an epi-pen with him, popped my buddy with it, and reversed the impact … and saved his life!

What could possibly be the point and how could this possibly tie in to my reading from Acts 8 – 16 this week? Glad you asked!

The Apostle Paul, who wrote nearly a third of the text of the New Testament and arguably was one of the greatest champions for the cause of Christ, was not always such a hero of Christendom. Earlier in the book of Acts we read of his exploits in persecuting followers of Jesus … and martyring them. So it was no surprise when we read in Acts 9:22-27 that

Saul’s preaching became more and more powerful, and the Jews in Damascus couldn’t refute his proofs that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. After a while some of the Jews plotted together to kill him. They were watching for him day and night at the city gate so they could murder him, but Saul was told about their plot. So during the night, some of the other believers lowered him in a large basket through an opening in the city wall. When Saul arrived in Jerusalem, he tried to meet with the believers, but they were all afraid of him. They did not believe he had truly become a believer! Then Barnabas brought him to the apostles and told them how Saul had seen the Lord on the way to Damascus and how the Lord had spoken to Saul. He also told them that Saul had preached boldly in the name of Jesus in Damascus.

So how did this particular passage move me this week? It just struck a chord with me about the way I can sometimes assume something about a person or situation and in the process miss out on a blessing God is trying to bestow upon me.

The believers in Jerusalem were afraid of Paul and almost avoided meeting with him. Why? Because they didn’t believe that he was a believer (and in fairness, with good reason given his background). But it was fundamentally a combination of their assumptions about who they believed he was, as well as their inability to see beyond the situation. They assumed “what you see is what you get.” But in this situation, as in so many, it wasn’t so. Often, what we think we see is not always what we get. Not only was Paul a believer, he was at the precipice of laying the groundwork for the church of Jesus as we know it. Think about what the Jerusalem believers would have missed had they assumed something about Paul and dismissed him without engaging with him!

Just like my buddy’s encounter with a person he didn’t know was a doctor, didn’t want to meet, but in hindsight was thankful beyond thankfulness that he did. When the Holy Spirit urges us to do something or to meet someone or to reach out to a stranger or to help a fellow human in need … we should do it. Because, there is usually a duality of blessing in the fold for us. As the writer to the Hebrews (assuming it wasn’t … as many believe … Paul) reminds us, “Don’t forget to show hospitality to strangers, for some who have done this have entertained angels without realizing it!”

For us, this means that we need to be open and prepared to go and do where and what God urges us to. We can’t assume that someone is not in need or not worth our time, because we can’t know these things with our limited, myopic, temporal viewpoint.

I recognize that some of us are a bit more on the introverted side … that’s not really me. I’ve somehow been entrusted with a more gregarious, interpersonal style, to the extent that our kids say that I have “TTS” or “talk to strangers” syndrome. But I believe the message here for all of us has less to do with introversion or extraversion than it does with being in tune with God. If we are, and we sense He is orchestrating a situation He will also provide us the means to follow that leading.

Don’t assume someone isn’t important to talk to. Don’t assume someone doesn’t need someone to smile and say, “hello.” Don’t assume you don’t have time to stop and listen to someone. Don’t assume someone else will handle giving someone a helping hand. Don’t assume your time is more valuable or too constrained. Don’t. (I say this as much to me as to you, by the way)

After all, the life you save may well be your own.

What you (think you) see is (not always) what you get.

Soli Deo Gloria!



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