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It’s 9:27pm Saturday, and a small car you don’t recognize stops at your neighbor’s house. Her place has been dark and quiet all evening. You figure the sweet retired widow is visiting her son on the other side of town. Instead of parking on the driveway, the driver tucks the sedan under the shadows of a nearby tree.

It’s too dim to see much, but you can just make out a figure exit the car and walk up the stone pathway to the front door. In a few moments, light from a cell phone flashes around the front steps. The light sweeps down one side of the path, then the other.

By this time, you’re getting a bit nervous. Should you call the police?

Then you hear the dogs. They’re obviously just inside your neighbor’s front door, and they’re raising quite the ruckus.

You lean closer to your front window, squinting into the darkness. Now the light flashes around the side of the house and stops on the back deck. The dogs are louder than ever.

The light blinks around the deck, then comes back around the side of the house. There it remains motionless for a couple minutes.

After a time, the light once again appears at the front of the house. Suddenly your neighbor’s front door is open, and the dark figure moves inside.

Incessant barking echoes behind the widow’s house. It appears the dogs have been let out into the back yard.

Your heart skips a beat as the intruder steps back out the front door, arms loaded with…something. He or she deftly opens the trunk lid, and stows whatever it is inside.

You realize you’re holding your breath as you watch not one, but two more trips being made to the car. Each time, more items are deposited into the trunk.

What would you do at this point?

If you say, “Call the police,” you’re absolutely right. That would be the obvious thing to do, as this would definitely be suspicious activity.

However, in this case, though it would be the right thing to do, it would be the wrong conclusion.

You see, a couple weeks ago, my aunt left her house to rush to the hospital for the arrival of her first grandchild.

But the grandbaby took longer than anticipated to make her entrance into the world, and I was called to go and let the poor puppies out.

I didn’t park in her steep driveway because the parking brake on my car isn’t reliable, and instead parked under a tree where the ground is more level.

Try as I might, I couldn’t find the hidden key in the dark. ANYWHERE. I searched for quite some time without calling the hospital, because who wants to interrupt a birth?

I finally gave up and made the call, and eventually found the illusive key. By this time, the dogs were beside themselves.

While letting the dogs out, I remembered the food. My cousin had picked up groceries from Sam’s Club for me and stored them in my aunt’s freezer. Why not pick them up while I’m here?

Not until driving home did I realize how suspicious the entire escapade must have looked. There was a reasonable explanation for everything I did–parking in the shadows, flashing a light around in the dark, taking things from the house.

But to anyone looking on, it would have looked mighty fishy.

This little story teaches a good lesson:

It’s easy to misinterpret appearances.

It’s even easier to jump to the wrong conclusions.

That person frowning across the room from you at church? They don’t hate you–they just have a pulsing headache.

The friend who completely ignored your exuberant wave in town? They didn’t even see you. (Another true story there…I may or may not have a reputation for missing people who wave at me while I’m driving.)

And the friend who never answered your text or returned your call? Well, they had a crazy day and never even knew you called until they picked up their phone after work.

God told His prophet in I Samuel 16:7 that men can only look on the outward appearance, but He looks at the heart. In other words, we are limited. We can only see and hear what’s happening on the outside. God alone knows what is in a person’s heart.

You may be absolutely convinced your conclusion about a person is correct, but you can be absolutely mistaken. Better to give them the benefit of the doubt before jumping to the wrong conclusion.

(However, if you do see someone poking around in the dark at your neighbor’s house, call 911!)  🙂