I have a confession to make:
Once when my daughters were very small, I tried to deceive them. It didn’t start out as an intentional deception; in fact, on that fateful day that I stole a few minutes away to go to the grocery store by myself, I had no idea that events would unfold as they did. Peacefully strolling with my cart through the produce section of our local grocery store, I spotted a BOGO sign that caught my attention. You’ve probably done this before. You’re going along, minding your own business, shopping list in hand, when out of the corner of your eye you espy a BUY ONE GET ONE FREE label on the shelf and suddenly you are putting an item in your cart that you normally would never consider buying. That is exactly what happened to me that particular afternoon. The item in question: Tofu Hot Dogs.
I know what you’re thinking… “What were you THINKING?!”
Hear me out though—- I had a list of rationalizations that made this an acceptable purchase!
First, tofu is supposed to be good for you, so I figured that introducing more healthy foods to my family was a good thing. Second, they were buy one, get one free, and I’m all about a bargain. This was an especially good deal, it seemed, because this particular store doesn’t require you to buy two; if you buy only one, it is half-priced, so instead of paying $3.00, the tofu dogs would be $1.50, which was a great deal, I figured. Third, well… okay maybe there were only two reasons to buy the tofu dogs. At any rate, this impulse buy made its way into my cart and into the shopping bag and into our house.
Upon returning home, it was lunch time, so I thought it would be the perfect time to break out the tofu dogs and serve them. I put a small pot of water on the stove to bring it to a boil, and I got the condiments prepared. My husband and dog happened to be in the kitchen as I opened the package of tofu dogs. As I released the tofu dogs from their cellophane wrapper, we were shocked to see that the dogs, which had a somewhat-appetizing brownish-pink “hot dog” color in the package, were actually a grayish-beige hue in real life that was decidedly unappetizing. My husband, a normally non-picky eater who appreciates healthy food as much as the next person, took one look at the tofu dogs and stated unequivocally, “I am NOT eating those things.” Our dog, Abby, on the other hand, smelled the liquid smoke additive and let us know she would be very happy to have Clint’s portion. In fact, she stayed at the threshold of the kitchen the entire time the tofu dogs were being prepared.
I placed our new, healthy lunch option into the boiling water and got the girls into their respective high chair and booster seat. I told them we were going to try something new for lunch today, and my three year old daughter responded enthusiastically. “Good," I thought. "At least she’s grateful for what I’m trying to do here.”
As the tofu dogs finished cooking, I used a fork to lift them out of the water and onto a plate. That is, I attempted to use a fork to remove them. Immediately upon being pierced and raised up, a tofu dog began to disintegrate due to its lack of casing, and a small piece of tofu flipped out onto the floor, much to my dog Abby’s delight. She had been smelling the delicious aroma of “faux beef” the whole time. She RAN over to the morsel and snarfed it up…and immediately deposited it back out onto the floor and walked away, dejectedly.
“This does not bode well,” I thought.
Realizing that the tofu dogs were not going to hold their shape, I announced excitedly to the girls, “Actually, you’re going to get to try a new food: Beanie Weenies!”
“Oh boy, that sounds yummy,” was the cheerful response.
“Okay, good recovery, mom,” I silently congratulated myself.
So I opened a can of baked beans, cut the tofu dogs in small pieces, and stirred them in carefully so as not to further obliterate them. My husband, doubting the success of my efforts, gave me a sidelong glance and wished me luck. I served each of the girls a bowl and walked away so my face would not give away the deception. Remember, my intentions were good!
Within taking two bites of the “Beanie Tofu Weenies,” my younger daughter, Carolyn, made a noise that I will now attempt to recreate in written form:
It was a combination of clearing her throat and gagging from disgust. It was the toddler version of, "WHATISTHISNASTYSTUFFANDWHYDOYOUTHINKANYONEWOULDEATTHIS???”
(At this point, Clint and I were silently laughing in the kitchen, out of view of our beloved children). Gathering my composure and hearing Meredith scraping her bowl and enthusiastically eating, I asked, “Meredith, do you like it?”
“Mm-hmm!!” She chirped, “All ‘cept the hot dog part!”
At that, Clint and I lost it in the kitchen and started cracking up! We promptly made them something else for lunch and released them from this ruse. Bless their hearts, the girls gave it their best efforts, but there was no getting around the fact that an imitation hot dog made from pale gray tofu dressed up with liquid smoke smell and colored cellophane just isn’t the same as the real thing. It may be shaped and colored like a hot dog in the package, and it may smell like a hot dog, but the substance of it proved that it was nothing like the representation, and it couldn’t fool anybody.
In the same way, inauthentic Christianity doesn’t fool anybody for long. Others can sense when our representation of Christ is superficial or bogus. As followers and disciples of Christ, we serve as representatives of Him to the world. As such, we have a responsibility to steward our salvation well. In other words, the way we live outwardly should demonstrate that following Jesus makes a difference in our lives. Our actions should match what we purport to believe.
The attributes of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal.5:22-23) do not magically appear in our lives by saying we are Christians; they are manifested, however, when we are living and behaving as Christians. We have no business wearing cross necklaces or carrying scripture-embossed leather Bible cases if we’re going to have negative attitudes and ugliness in our hearts. See what the apostle Paul has written about inauthentic Christians in Romans 2:24:
As it is written: “The name of God is discredited by the Gentiles because of you”.
Yikes! When we claim to be Christians, yet behave in ways that are contrary to that assertion, we misrepresent and discredit the name of God to unbelievers and to those who may be sitting on the fence between belief and disbelief. We effectively render (by appearances at the very least) His power ineffectual. Why would anyone want to accept Christ as Savior if doing so changes nothing in their life? Authentic Christianity should bring about observable, positive change in the life of every believer.
So this, then, begs the question: How can we represent Christ well? How do we live as authentic followers of Christ?
The answer may surprise you in its simplicity. In the gospel of John, Jesus lays it out for His disciples following the Passover meal they had together when He humbly washes each of His disciples’ feet. To drive the point home, Jesus asks them pointedly, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” Then a few moments later, Jesus expounds on this idea. “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:12b-15; John 13:34-35. Other instances where followers are commanded to display love to others can be found in 1 John 4:8 “The person who doesn’t love does not know God, because God is love.”, and in 2 John 1:6 “This is love: that we live according to his commands. This is the command that you heard from the beginning: live in love.”, as well as John 15:12, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”.
People are watching you. They want to know if there’s anything of substance to following this Jesus person. It matters how we live. It matters that we love one another, and show it tangibly by our actions. If we are rude and impatient, if we cheat in our business dealings, if our language would make a sailor blush, if we turn a blind eye to those in need, if we talk the talk but don’t walk the walk, we are no better off than an unbeliever, and in fact we are misrepresenting Jesus and discrediting God's name. If we behave in a manner that melds with the world and its misaligned values rather than stands apart because of our active relationship with the Lord, we become like those tofu dogs: having an outward appearance of the real thing, but having the substance of a counterfeit phony.
Jesus didn’t say that all people would know us by the slogans on our T-shirts or bracelets or bumper stickers or dish towels. He said that all people will know us by our love.
Who can YOU love today with an act of service, a kind word, a monetary gift, or your time?