By the Way With Joel Meeker
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That Time I Was an Astronaut

Several amusing cases of mistaken professions caused me to reflect on how appearances can be deceiving.

Strasbourg, France. Through the open windows of the historic restaurant, we heard the river murmur its way through the summer night. From observation during a previous dinner, I knew that the owner had a private photo album of famous clients that was shown only to a select few. I surprised her by asking if she would show it to my guest.

She looked at me quizzically, then said with a warm smile, “You’re the American astronaut, aren’t you?”

I smiled back warmly but noncommittally. The album appeared, and we enjoyed very attentive service.

Mahé Island, the Seychelles

This equatorial haven targets upscale tourism, so there are few inexpensive hotels, but this was one, far from the hot spots. The German couple managing the establishment had been watching me surreptitiously since people interested by our church magazine had begun calling me to arrange visits.

Finally, the couple asked me my profession. “I’m a pastor,” I replied. The man said, “You came alone, don’t go to the beach, bankers call you; we thought you were a drug dealer.”

St. Louis, Missouri

About to board a flight to Paris, I met former classmates from a graduate program. While trying to support my family on a grad student stipend, I had done French interpretation for an FBI investigation. It was confidential, but my department chair had to be told why I needed time off, which created curiosity in the office. The curiosity lasted.

“So what are you doing now?” my classmates asked. I said I was a pastor once again. “Oh, we thought you had become a spy.”

Collioure, France

This Mediterranean village near the Spanish border is a holiday destination, but rarely for Americans. Using all my accrued vacation time one year, we stayed several weeks. Our daughters made friends at the beach, and their parents became curious. Who was this discreet American family that spoke French and spent weeks of vacation in the south of France?

In a café one father began telling me about a screenplay he had written. Might I be willing to have a look at it? Did I have any associates who might be interested? “You work in Hollywood, right?” he asked.

Outward appearances

These are all true stories that make me smile. It’s a bit of fun to fantasize about being an astronaut, a Hollywood mogul or a spy. They also illustrate how appearances can be deceiving. We can only know so much in certain situations, so we have to fill in the gaps using visual clues, past experience and guesswork, which lead to assumptions.

God, however, does not rely on appearances; He knows people, inside and out. He told Samuel, “The Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

In the long run, one can’t flourish with a pleasing, misleading show. One’s true inner self must be clean. Jesus told hypocritical Pharisees, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15). Those are strong words that apply to so much of our present age where appearance dominates.

So when we have our morning look in the mirror to tidy up before others see us, it would be wise to ask ourselves, “As God looks at me today, what will He see?”

—Joel Meeker


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Discern Article Series

Christ Versus Christianity
Walk as He Walked
Christianity in Progress
Wonders of God's Creation