Adjusting The Message

Story of the Day for Friday March 16, 2012

Adjusting the Message


                   When the crowds saw what Paul did, they cried out in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us as humans!” 

                                                          Acts 14:11     

 When Paul and Barnabas visited Lystra on a missionary trip, they met a man lame from birth. Paul healed him, and the crowd went wild. The Lycaonian’s, unfortunately, didn’t see this miracle from the viewpoint of the God Paul worshipped. They interpreted the miracle from the perspective of their own gods. They called Barnabas Zeus, and named Paul Hermes.

The priest from the nearby temple of Zeus prepared to sacrifice bulls to worship them. Paul emphatically denied they were pagan gods, but they still had a whale of a time convincing the Lycaonians of that.


Now, don’t start thinking, “How could these people be so dense?” because I’m about to apply their way of thinking to you (I’ve already applied it to myself.) Wouldn’t it be easier to understand how others form faulty perceptions when we see why we do the same thing?

Dr. Steven J. Sherman is a professor of psychology at Indiana University. He poses this scenario: Let’s imagine that a Professor Yang teaches at a large American university. He is Asian, very literate, likes to take nature walks, and writes poetry in his spare time? Is it more likely that Professor Yang teaches math or Korean literature?

Based on this information, most of us choose Korean literature. But, that’s because we’ve failed to consider the “base rate” – which, in this case, is the number of math teachers at an American university compared to Korean lit instructors. How many math classes are there compared to every class in Korean literature? A hundred? A thousand? Mathematics is a popular subject while Korean lit is rare.

Despite Professor Yang’s ethnic background or personal interests, it is far more probable that he is a math instructor.


But, talking about our misjudgments is not the point of this article. The real purpose is that we understand that those who listen to our message of the Good News of Jesus will do so from their own, biased perspective.

My brother made a missionary trip to India. Through an interpreter, he presented the Gospel to people and was surprised (and pleased) to witness so many conversions.

Then, it dawned on him that these people, steeped in Hinduism, had thousands of gods. Accepting one more was no big deal to them.

My brother alertly notified the missionary society that was sponsoring him of this situation. They refused to listen. Stay with the canned presentation, they warned him, and chalk up the “conversions.”


When we understand our own ability to misinterpret the facts, we can become more sensitive to how others may misinterpret our words. And adjust the message for them.

(copyright by and by Marty Kaarre)