Thursday, March 2, 2017

No Substitutes, No Imitations

Over the years my wife has created a couple of pretty Pandora bracelets. Well, she didn’t actually create them, but did choose the specific baubles produced by the Pandora people to fashion her own unique bracelets that no one else has. With the vast array of choices, possibilities for one-of-a-kind combinations are endless.

These charms look quite a bit like the real
thing, except for the price.
The other day I was at a local restaurant and, as I was paying my bill, noticed a display of what initially appeared to be Pandora charms. They looked nice and I thought, “Wow! Are they selling Pandora items here now?” Then I noticed a little sign that read, “2 for $2.” Aha! Not the genuine article at all – cheap knockoffs, even though they looked like the real thing.

If you’re strapped for cash, I’m sure the imitations would seem like a deal. You could have a bracelet that appears like the bonafide item, but at just a fraction of the cost. Kind of like the fake Rolex watches or high-fashion purses the sidewalk “entrepreneurs” try to sell passersby in New York City. They look real, only they’re not.

Substitutes – counterfeits for the genuine – aren’t limited to jewelry, clothing or accessories, of course. Sometimes we’re willing to settle for them because they cost less, or don’t require as much of us.

But when it comes to important matters, imitations and substitutes aren’t acceptable. Suppose you or a loved one get in an accident and suffer considerable loss of blood. Upon arriving at the hospital, you’re told, “Sorry, we’re all out of your blood type. But lucky for you, nurse Myrtle just got back from the grocery store with some excellent tomato juice, so we’re going to substitute that instead, okay?”

Ludicrous, right? But settling for imitations happens more that we’d like to admit. We find ourselves “looking for love in all the wrong places,” as the theme song of the film, “Urban Cowboy,” observed. In the spiritual realm, it’s even more pronounced.

People hop from church to church, or even from one belief system to the next, trying to find something that doesn’t seem too demanding. They want to align with something to believe in that fits comfortably within their biases and preferences, without insisting on a whole lot of commitment.

The apostle Paul addressed this strongly when he wrote, “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).

It’s clear the attraction of substitutes and imitations isn’t a new invention. Whether it’s a consumer product, a philosophy, or matter of faith, there will always be alternatives presented to us that seem more palatable, more accommodating to what we seek to fulfill our desires.

Over the years, advertisers for everything from soap to automobiles have repeated the mantra, “Accept no substitutes!” to separate their products from the competition. Cheap imitations might work when shopping for a new pair of jeans, designer clothes or ballpoint pens. But in the realm of eternal truth, not so much.

When Jesus Christ made declarations like, “no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (John 3:3) and “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6), He wasn’t making suggestions, desperately seeking to recruit followers, or offering meaningless, empty boasts.

In effect, Jesus was giving a simple, but extremely stern warning: “Accept no substitutes, no imitations!” That’s a warning worth heeding.

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