God Running is a place for anyone who wants to (or even anyone who wants to want to) love Jesus more deeply, follow Jesus more closely, and love people the way Jesus wants us to.
In our last post from the book of Acts we looked at Paul’s conversion and how you and I need to be overwhelmed by Jesus the way Paul was. If you’re interested, you can check that out here: I Was Hurt and Offended (and then this happened) — Acts 9:1-9. In today’s post we’ll look at Ananias’s misconceptions about the newly converted Saul of Tarsus, and what that means for you and for me.
Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened.Acts 9:10-19
We Think We Know Things About Mothers Who Don’t Take Care of Their Children
Michael was a Seventh-day Adventist pastor, Lindy was a pastor’s wife, and Azaria was the name of their two month old daughter. They were camping in the Australian Outback when witnesses say they saw Lindy outside of her tent yelling, “A dingo’s got my baby!”
According to Time magazine, at the time, in Australia, little was known about the Seventh-day Adventist religion. Australians viewed the Christian denomination as a cult. There was speculation that followers of this strange religion sometimes sacrificed their babies. People even said the baby’s name, Azaria, meant “sacrifice in the wilderness.” (The real meaning of the name Azaria is “blessed of God.”) And then there was the prevailing public opinion concerning dingoes. It was believed that a dingo would never attack a human being unprovoked. After the baby’s disappearance, the public was sympathetic–toward the dingoes. Michael and Lindy were stoic in their grief which further fueled speculation that, since the dingoes couldn’t possibly have done it, the couple must have killed their own daughter. They were charged, and convicted, of murder. The prosecution proposed that Lindy slit her daughter’s throat with scissors, hid the body in a camera case, drove to a remote location away from their camp, and buried their deceased baby.
There was a media frenzy and the case received worldwide attention. They even made a movie about it starring Meryl Streep. The dog-like dingoes were facing a harsh accusation from Lindy and Michael. And the media, the public, and the prosecution all sided with the dingoes. During the trial journalists published images of dingoes looking more playful than predatory. Lindy was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison. Her husband Michael was convicted of accessory after the fact. Lindy spent four years behind bars and away from her husband and her other three children. The couple eventually divorced. (Divorce rates increase as a result of imprisonment.)
People thought the idea that a dingo would crawl into a tent and drag away someone’s baby was ludicrous–and they thought it was funny too. “A dingo’s got my baby” evolved into “a dingo ate my baby.” That phrase, spoken in an exaggerated Australian accent, became a favorite punchline of comedians. It appeared on popular sitcoms like Seinfeld and The Simpsons too.
But the people, the prosecution, and the media were making a judgment without all the facts. Four years later more light was shed on the case: Azaria’s clothes were found partially buried near a dingo lair. Before Azaria’s death, the chief park ranger warned that the increasing dingo population in the area was becoming a danger to humans, but his warnings were ignored. It was also discovered that “blood stains” on the floor of Michael and Lindy’s car are actually stains from a spilled drink. Since Lindy and Michael lost their daughter Azaria, three other small children have been attacked and killed by dingoes. Eventually, with all the facts in hand, the coroner came forward with a declaration that dingoes were responsible for the death of two month old Azaria. Lindy and Michael’s names were cleared, but it took years. In the interim Lindy served time in prison and the family was torn apart.
We Think We Know Things About People Who Sue Other People
I remember hearing about the lady who bought coffee from McDonald’s and spilled it on her lap. Then she sued and was awarded millions of dollars. That made a large group of people so mad! And I was a part of that group. I mean, come on, give me a break. Coffee is supposed to be hot. It’s not McDonald’s fault she’s grabbing coffee in the drive through and tries to open it while she’s behind the wheel. She’s just an idiot trying to game the system. Trying to get into McDonald’s deep pockets. Where’s the personal accountability here? I thought this way up until today as a matter of fact.
But this morning I stumbled upon the facts about the case. The lady was 79 year old Stella Liebeck. She wasn’t even driving, she was a passenger. The car wasn’t moving. She suffered third degree burns that required skin grafts. She was just doing the best she could to get the lid off the coffee cup to add cream and sugar when it spilled on her lap. And, it wasn’t an isolated incident. McDonald’s had received over 700 reports of injury from it’s hot coffee including some others with third degree burns. In spite of all those reports McDonald’s maintained its policy to serve their coffee at temperatures that cause third degree burns in three to seven seconds. Also, Stella offered to settle with McDonald’s for $20k but McDonald’s best offer was for only 800 dollars. During the trial the executives at McDonald’s maintained an attitude that only 700 people burned was no big deal. I thought I knew who Stella Liebeck was. I thought I knew things. But I really didn’t.
We Think We Know Things About Medical Professionals and Scientists
Ever hear about Ignác Semmelweis? He was the guy who figured out handwashing between surgeries and baby deliveries dramatically reduced patient mortality. But although Semmelweis had some data to prove the reduction in mortality, he didn’t have any clear explanation as to why handwashing was helpful. So a rather large group of his peers decided they knew things, things Semmelweis, and those who agreed with him, didn’t know. They mocked him. Details are sketchy but it may be that he suffered a nervous breakdown. He was committed to an asylum where he was beaten and died two weeks after he was admitted. It was only years after his death that his ideas were recognized as truth.
Similarly, Joseph Lister discovered sterilization of surgical instruments and cleaning wounds reduced infection and improved outcomes. Once again a large group of colleagues thought they knew things. They derided Lister for these ideas. Today we all know the difference sterilization makes.
We Think We Know Things About The Accused
Yesterday, Andrew and I watched the movie Stand and Deliver. It’s an excellent story (based on a true story) about Jaime Escalante, a teacher who goes to work in a Los Angeles high school where the students are mainly poor Hispanic kids. He decides to teach them calculus as a means to help them escape the cycle of poverty. When the kids in his class all pass the AP Calculus exam they’re accused of cheating.
So there’s this one line in the movie where Escalante asks a school administrator if she thinks the kids cheated. She says, “You know, when I learn about someone who’s accused of committing a crime, I think, most of the time: they did it. Don’t you?” She wasn’t alone in her assessment. There were others who were sure those kids cheated. They knew things.
But as you probably guessed, the poor Mexican kids didn’t cheat. It was their investment of hard work and time that caused them to pass that test.
There’s another movie based on a true story about Richard Jewell. Jewell was the man who discovered a bomb during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. He was accused by the FBI of planting that bomb. So many of us who read about Jewell in the media were sure he was guilty. We knew things. But after Jewell’s life was made a nightmare by the media and law enforcement, more information came to light and we found out we were wrong.
Ananias Thought He Knew Things
In today’s passage the Lord said to Ananias, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul . . .” But Ananias has heard things. And he hasn’t just heard things from one person but from many. And he tells God about what he’s heard because he’s afraid of Saul. Ananias is protesting against what God is telling Ananias to do. Because Ananias thinks he knows things.
The Only One Who Really Knows
So here’s the thing. In all these instances, there’s only one Person who really knows anything, and that person is God. Everybody thought they knew Lindy killed her baby but God knew she was innocent. Everybody thought they knew the Mexican kids cheated but God knew they performed with integrity. Everybody thought they knew Richard Jewell planted that bomb but God knew the truth was he saved lives by evacuating the crowd near the bomb.
The situation with Ananias is interesting because Saul of Tarsus was sure the followers of the Way were ignorant misinformed heretics, and, Ananias thought he knew Saul was dangerous. But they were both wrong.
God knew His own Son was the Way, the Truth, and the Life. And God knew Saul was already far along in the process of being transformed from an enemy of Jesus into one of the greatest advocates of Jesus Christ in history. God knew Saul was anything but dangerous. God knew Saul was being transformed into Paul the Apostle.
The One Thing We Have in Common With Ananias
Imagine with me you’re Ananias. And God tells you to go to a house where Saul is waiting for you. Saul, the one who was breathing murderous threats against Jesus’ followers. Saul the one who voted for Stephen and other believers to be put to death. Saul who made it his life’s mission to hunt down Christians. A self declared enemy of Christians. This Saul is waiting for you to show up, and, if I go, then what? “What will happen to me?” I might ask. “Is he waiting in ambush? Will I be arrested and then stoned to death, like Stephen and the others?”
But Ananias was wrong about Saul.
He didn’t know what God was doing in Saul’s heart and mind and soul.
And I’m the same — no — I’m certainly less than Ananias. In verse 10 Ananias is identified as a disciple of Jesus. I really feel like I’m someone who’s trying to become a disciple of Jesus. When God called his name, Ananias said, “Here I am, Lord.” When God calls my name I think I sometimes find ways to run and hide. So I’m definitely far less of a man than Ananias. But the way Ananias was enlightened by God about Saul makes me realize the one thing I have in common with Ananias is how little I know about others.
I might think I know what others are thinking. I might feel like I’m sure I know what they’re going to do. I might feel positive I know what’s in their heart. But the truth is, I don’t. Like Ananias,
I don’t know what God is doing in the heart and mind and soul of others.
The family member who disagrees with me about COVID might be doing the very best they can, and — twenty years from now when we know more about this virus — that person might be right about some things that I was sure he or she was wrong about. The coworker I’ve assigned a motive to might have something completely different in mind. The person I’ve identified as an enemy of Christ might be chosen by God to become one of the biggest advocates of Christianity in history for all I know.
Not Knowing and Jesus
So, where does that leave us?
We know we can’t know what God knows.
So as I was studying this passage in Acts 9, I realized, if Ananias didn’t know what was inside of a person like Saul of Tarsus, there’s no way you and I can know what’s inside of anyone. And because there’s no way you and I can know what God is doing inside of anyone, and because only God can know, when you and I make assumptions about what someone is thinking or feeling, we’re putting ourselves in the place of God.
I heard a nun talking about Mother Teresa the other day (in a YouTube video). She said Mother Teresa and a friend were standing next to each other on the street when a mutual acquaintance approached them. This person who was walking toward them happened to be someone Mother Teresa found obnoxious. As the person drew nearer, Mother Teresa leaned toward her friend’s ear and said in a quiet voice,
“Here comes Jesus in that annoying disguise.”
(I spent hours trying to find the original source but couldn’t track it down so if someone knows, please share with me.)
So this is where God leaves us. This is where God leaves you and this is where God leaves me. Because we can’t know what God is doing in the hearts and minds and souls of others, our only recourse is
to treat every person God puts in front of us (including people on the internet)
just as though that person is Jesus.
The McDonald’s Hot Coffee Case, Consumer Attorneys of California
Image of Jesus in Disguise song verse via Sharon Tate Soberon – Creative Commons
Available on Amazon!
Love Like Jesus: How Jesus Loved People (and how you can love like Jesus)
Love Like Jesus begins with the story of how after a life of regular church attendance and Bible study, Bennett was challenged by a pastor to study Jesus. That led to an obsessive seven year deep dive. After pouring over Jesus’ every interaction with another human being, he realized he was doing a much better job of studying Jesus’ words than he was following Jesus’ words and example. The honest and fearless revelations of Bennett’s own moral failures affirm he wrote this book for himself as much as for others.
Love Like Jesus examines a variety of stories, examples, and research, including:
- Specific examples of how Jesus communicated God’s love to others.
- How Jesus demonstrated all five of Gary Chapman’s love languages (and how you can too).
- The story of how Billy Graham extended Christ’s extraordinary love and grace toward a man who misrepresented Jesus to millions.
- How to respond to critics the way Jesus did.
- How to love unlovable people the way Jesus did.
- How to survive a life of loving like Jesus (or how not to become a Christian doormat).
- How Jesus didn’t love everyone the same (and why you shouldn’t either).
- How Jesus guarded his heart by taking care of himself–he even napped–and why you should do the same.
- How Jesus loved his betrayer Judas, even to the very end.
With genuine unfiltered honesty, Love Like Jesus, shows you how to live a life according to God’s definition of success: A life of loving God well, and loving the people around you well too.
A life of loving like Jesus.