Woven into a list of lifelong lessons worth considering, Charles Swindoll includes these three wise words: ... perception overshadows reality.
Sometimes our misty perceptions give us a good laugh; at other times they can lead to inaccurate conclusions, resulting in tragic consequences.
Years ago, our family was living in an old Buddhist neighborhood outside of Yokohama, Japan. Nestled in the foothills leading up to Mount Fuji, the narrow valley floors were crisscrossed with symmetrical terraced rice paddies and lovely manicured gardens.
On a warm day in early autumn I said to Nancy, “I think I’ll take Jacob and hike to meet the children at school — and then ride the city bus back with them.”
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Our children attended school four miles away in another village situated between two mountains.
Just a couple of days prior, a local policeman had walked into our yard asking to speak to me. His English was excellent — much better than my Japanese.
Looking into my eyes he said, “There is a small brownish-green viper that lives in the forest.” Then he smiled and said, “Be alert and pay attention, please.”
With that he was gone.
Four-year-old Jacob and I were having fun on our great adventure, holding hands, tramping through the ancient hills toward Nakayama, going where no Smith had gone before. About halfway into our hike we passed over a part of the trail covered in leaves and sticks. Leading Jacob, I stepped over something my perception told me was a stick. But then it moved. Somehow hoisting Jacob with my right hand, we leapt up and over the deadly viper.
Taking a moment to catch our breath, we watched wide-eyed as the snake slithered away. We carried on from there with a fresh, sharper awareness of our surroundings. My perceptions had been calibrated -- adjusted to see differently.
Jesus taught his followers about faulty perceptions, too. At one point he told them, “Stop judging by mere appearances, and make a right judgment” (John 7:24). Mere appearances! In other words, take time to look deeper than the surface level. Make sure you’re dealing with reality.
Out on the Sea of Galilee in a dark and violent storm (Mark 6:45-52), the disciples had allowed circumstances to cloud their judgment to the point they couldn’t distinguish Jesus from a ghost walking on the water toward them! In the moment when they needed him most, they weren’t sure about him.
Each of us has our own set of storms and unnerving circumstances. People feel storm-tossed from any number of violent disturbances sweeping over the world and through their lives. Job stress. Disappointments. Politics. Uncertainty. Fear. The way ahead can look rather dark and hopeless at times.
We need Jesus in such moments — the real Jesus. Out on the stormy waters, the disciples had perceived a Jesus who was almost God — but not quite. To them, he was also part myth, part ghost.
Following an “almost” God like that might work in a vacuum where there is no pain, trouble, conflict, or sorrow. But when faced with a dark murky night that tests your perceptions, you need the genuine article. -- the Real Deal. An almost-God or part-time Savior just won’t cut it.
Jesus shows himself present, powerful and merciful. In spite of chaos and confusion, he still climbs into the boat with his people. He does not abandon us in the storm.
There is no condemnation shelled out upon them, either. Instead, you read words frequently spoken to us when circumstances seem out of control, and our perceptions fly into overdrive panic, “Don’t be afraid … . Fear not … . Take heart … . Don’t be alarmed … . Be comforted … . Relax … . It’s me … . I am with you.”
Friends, we can live with these promises, no matter what snake shows up or storm that rocks the boat. That’s when reality overshadows perceptions.
Jesus is Reality with a capital R.