Sunday, November 20, 2011

Flavored or Filled?

Thoughts on the Sabbath School Lesson dated 11.26.11

“[The label on the bottle said:] 'Blueberry Pomegranate, 100 percent juice, all natural.'  [There was also a picture of] a ripe pomegranate [spilling] its exotic, glistening seeds onto mounds of fat, perfect blueberries. …
“And then I read the ingredients list: ‘Filtered water, pear juice concentrate, apple juice concentrate, grape juice concentrate.’ Where was the blueberry? Where was the pomegranate? Finally I found them, fifth and seventh on a list of nine ingredients, after mysteriously unspecified ‘natural flavors.’
“By law, food ingredients are listed in descending order of weight. That means a product contains the greatest proportion of the first ingredient on the list and successively less of those farther down. So according to this list, the jug in my hand held mostly water and other juices, with just enough blueberry and pomegranate for flavor and color.
“In the bottom corner of the front label, in small, easy-to-miss type, were the tell-tale words: ‘Flavored juice blend with other natural ingredients.’ The enticing pictures and clever labeling were decoys to sell a diluted, blueberry-pomegranate flavored product, convincingly disguised to look like something it wasn't. I put the juice back on the shelf.
“I left the store empty-handed and wondering, What if I had an ingredients list printed on me? Would Jesus be the main ingredient? If not, how far down the list would he be? Would my ‘label’ accurately represent my contents? Or would I falsely project a misleading outward appearance that cleverly masked diluted ingredients? My packaging may be convincing. I may look and sound like the real thing. But what if someone came to me looking for Jesus beneath my ‘Christian’ label and found something else? Something Jesus-flavored, but not Jesus-filled? …”[1]
When Paul wrote to the Galatians, he begged them to be Christ-filled. Being Christ-filled is the antidote for being led into legalism by false teachers.  Legalism is being Christ-flavored: looking, smelling and maybe even tasting like Christ, but lacking that One Essential Ingredient – Jesus.

It’s interesting that if you ask a bunch of people if they are Christians, chances are good that they’ll say yes, but in some cases, they haven’t really made a full commitment to Jesus.  They want to be associated with Christianity but don’t really want to change their lives.

Steve Sample, president of the University of Southern California, offers this illustration:
“In the spring of 1970, when I was 29, I learned I had won a fellowship from the American Council on Education, which would allow me to serve an administrative internship with Purdue University President Fred Hovde for the 1970–71 academic year. I was elated by the opportunity. Despite having only recently been awarded tenure and promoted to associate professor of electrical engineering at Purdue, I was already leaning toward a career in administration….
“Soon after the award was announced, I happened to bump into a colleague, Vern Newhouse, who was a highly respected senior member of the electrical engineering faculty. ‘So, Sample,’ Newhouse said, ‘I see you've won some sort of administrative fellowship in the president's office.
“‘Yes, that's true,’ I said.
“‘And you'll be learning how to become an administrator?’
“‘I suppose so.’
“‘And then you'll probably want to be president of a university somewhere down the road?’
“‘Well, I don't know. I guess I've thought about it now and then,’ I said, somewhat disingenuously.
“He smiled and said: ‘Personally, I've never had any ambition whatsoever to be an administrator. I am totally inept at managing things…. But I've been a careful observer of ambitious men all my life. And here, for what it's worth, is what I've learned: many men want to be president, but very few want to do president.’ And with that he wished me well and walked away.”[2]
It’s so easy to slip away, isn’t it?  We want to be Christian, but we don’t necessarily want to do Christian.  It’s a moment by moment commitment, and if someone comes along and tells us there’s an easier way, our instinct is to jump at it.

 We want the benefits without the hard work so we listen to the folks who say that following Jesus is as easy as checking off the boxes on a list of do’s and don’ts.  That’s what the false teachers were telling the Galatians – that relationship was nothing, following the rules was the way to go.  Paul is using every argument to convince them of the truth.
“Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise.”  Galatians 4:21-23
In other words, “Come on people, you know better!  Where are you getting your information?”

Can you imagine how frustrating it must have been for Paul? This group of people that he felt like he practically had given birth to, had started placing greater value on their behavior than on their identity in Christ.  And that was because of where they were getting their information.
“My eight-year-old embraces some interesting sources of truth. We were coming home from the grocery store recently when he asked, ‘Dad, do you believe in the Bermuda Triangle?’
“‘Jack,’ I replied, ‘if you're asking me if I believe that this place exists, my answer is yes. If you're asking me if I believe all the mysterious stories about ships and planes disappearing, no: I think that's all baloney.’
“‘Well, Dad,’ Jack said with a note of defensiveness, ‘I believe in it. And I bet you want to know why.’
“‘Yes, Jack. I do.’
“‘Well, I was watching Scooby Doo …’”[3]
Where are we getting our information?  Someone who wants to convince us of the easy way?  or someone who tells us the truth?  Someone who agonizes over our salvation as though it were his own – Christ-flavored or Christ-filled?

[1] Erin Bunting, "Jesus Flavored, or Jesus Filled?" (10-7-09)
[2] Steve Sample, The Contrarian's Guide to Leadership (Jossey-Bass, 2002), pp. 159-160
[3] David Slagle, Atlanta, Georgia

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