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Jesus flavored or Jesus filled? CUMC Elmhurst
Introduction
I am so glad to be here this morning at the recommendation of Marilyn Dort. I met her in one of our
weekly worship services at Belmont Assisted Living Center in Carol Stream where your members Otto
and Robert are and I am the part-time chaplain. In honor of our seniors, I want to start off with this story I
heard last Friday. It is told by a young woman:
“When I was a 20-something college student, I became quite friendly with my study partner, a 64year-old man, who had returned to school to finish his degree. He confessed, with a wink, that he had
once thought more than friendship might be a possibility between us.
"So what changed your mind?" I asked him.
"I went to my doctor,” he said, “and asked if he thought a 40-year age difference between a man
and woman was insurmountable. He looked at my chart and said, 'You're interested in someone who's
104?'" GCFN 3/8/12 Ah, laughter does strengthen the bones and adds years to our life. Let’s pray.
Prayer.
Sermon
How many of you saw the movie Bucket List with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson? It came out
several years ago but it had one telling scene in it that relates to our topic this morning. In the story
Freeman and Nicholson are roommates in the hospital. They are both older men who have terminal
cancer. They are each given a year or less to live. Morgan starts a bucket list – the things he wants to do
before he “kicks the bucket.” He crumples up the list and throws it away but Jack retrieves it and writes
his own list. Then Jack decides they should fulfill their bucket lists together. So with Jack’s money
they head around the world to see and do all sorts of exotic things they had only dreamed about. Seeing
the Egyptian pyramids was one of those things. While they are gazing at the pyramids, Morgan said to
Jack, “You know there are two questions the ancient Egyptians believed you’d be asked as you stood at
the gates of heaven: 1. Have you found joy in your life? And 2. Has your life brought joy to
others?” Those are good questions for Christians to ponder. The answer is related to our sermon topic
today: Jesus flavored or Jesus filled?
“I was shopping the other day and picked up a bottle labeled "Blueberry Pomegranate, 100 percent juice,
all natural." There was 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 bottle 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 wondered: 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
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a diluted life? 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?” Erin Bunting, Jesus flavored or Jesus Filled, Kyria.com (10/7/09).
That’s the challenge I’d like us to consider this morning and it is related to whether we’ve found joy in
Christ and brought joy to others.
But first let’s answer the question: How is it possible to look Jesus-flavored but not Jesus filled?
One answer is in our understanding of God. A rather disturbing study by the Pew Research Foundation is
that that most young people, including evangelicals, in America believe in what could best be described as
"moral, therapeutic deism"... Moral implies that God wants us to be nice. He rewards the good and
withholds from the naughty. Therapeutic means that God just wants us to be happy. Deism means that
God is distant and not involved in our daily lives…According to research, this is the version of God that's
prevalent in our culture and in many of our churches. But it is not Biblical. When we create a god of our
own imaginations and still call ourselves Chrsitians, we will have a Jesus flavored Christianity. In fact,
worse yet, we may have an American god who is more like Santa Claus.” There’s no transformation into
the likeness of Christ in that god. It’s simply a religion that focuses on us. This is what the Apostle Paul
calls “having a form of religion but not the power of it” (2 Tim.3:5).
Another reason we may be only Jesus flavored Christians is because of the priorities in our lives ahead of
Christ. Our spiritual substitutes.
Do you remember when your mother used to say “No candy before meals?” She knew if you ate candy
you wouldn’t be hungry for the protein and vegetables that would come with dinner. I know some of us
have sugar addictions. We crave chocolate or carbs of some sort. And for a while we get a sugar high.
We get a sense of satisfaction. We get immediate energy - whether it’s before dinner or not! But a sugar
addiction is actually bad for you. It gives you a boost and then drops you down quickly. It fogs and
confuses your mental processes and creates memory loss. It blocks out the real nutrients your body needs.
I wonder how many good church-going people have spiritual sugar substitutes? Things that give us
a momentary boost of energy but then let us down afterwards? Things like shopping, or watching
sports or engaging in sex (illicit as in pornography or mental fanaticizing or actual sinful sexual
relationships), or working 80 hours a week at your job, or materialism, or working to keep control in life,
or seeking only a comfortable life and favorable circumstances. When we base our life on these things
that please and serve us, they will not sustain us for the long haul. They won’t build a relationship of joy
with the Lord. Most don’t even bring joy to others because they are self-based. In addition, these
substitutes mask our own soul’s hunger and can exhaust us – particularly the overwork emphasis. People
who overwork are setting themselves up for overcomforting – and seeking that in the wrong places!
And yet we keep prioritizing these substitutes. In our economic times I think we are getting stripped of
some of these things - like relying on money or favorable circumstances. These are very hard times. But
if any item remains at the top of our list and Jesus is somewhere down as the 6th or 7th ingredient –
more on the periphery of our lives - we will be Jesus flavored – looking a bit like Christians, faithful in
church attendance perhaps, but not Jesus filled so He is the One people encounter when they meet us.
Beloved we need to be sure we are not diluted lukewarm Jesus flavored people because God isn’t
happy about that! He said to the church in Laodecia “I know your deeds that you are neither cold nor
hot…So because you are lukewarm, I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, “I am rich and do
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not need anything.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel
you to buy from me…white clothes to wear (that’s Christ’s righteousness) so you can cover your shameful
nakedness and salve (that’s Holy Spirit revelation) to put on your eyes so you can see. Be earnest and
repent.” (Rev. 3:16-19).
When God does open our eyes to see what He really wants in our relationship with Him, it changes
everything. It took me some years and significant suffering to finally discover that the Holy Spirit is key
to a Jesus filled life. Being filled with the Spirit IS the difference between a Jesus flavored life (where
Christ is there but not in control) and a life radiating the Lord. Let me demonstrate the difference with
these sponges. A sponge soaked in water (or whatever cleaning ingredient you want) has multiple uses.
But a dry sponge does not. I can sprinkle some water on this dry sponge and it will do some good.
(demonstrate) But if the sponge is soaked in water, its full potential is realized. Then when someone
squeezes it, water comes out and the sponge can do its intended job. (demonstrate) It’s a picture of our
need to be filled with the Spirit continuously as we heard in Eph.5:18 . Then when the pressures and
sufferings of life come that will squeeze us, it is the life of the Holy Spirit that comes out of us. Jesus said
that those who believe in Him would have “rivers of living water flowing from within them. By this he
meant the Spirit whom those who believed in Him were to receive.” The Spirit is the water of life that is
now in all believers since Pentecost (Jn.7:38-39). It is the Spirit who makes knowing Jesus and being
used by Jesus so marvelous. It’s through the control of the Holy Spirit in our lives that we become
spiritually filled up Christians who bring glory to God.
This understanding of the Spirit-filled life relates to the questions of the ancient Egyptians: “Have you
found joy in your life and has your life brought joy to others”? One of the fruits of the Spirit IS joy, right?
So anytime I meet a joyful Christian – who is joyful because of the Lord not because of any of their
spiritual sugar substitutes, I celebrate and want to get to know that person better. They radiate the
presence and love of God that brings joy to others. Life isn’t about them; it is about Jesus living in and
flowing out from them.
One of the ministries I have besides the part-time chaplaincy is to read a book a week and do a
soundbite and review of that book which I send out to missionaries and anyone who is interested. A
missionary named my blog aptly marylousreviews:). One of the books that affected me most this winter is
called Champagne for the Soul. Mike Mason says joy is like champagne that God gives Christians. Joy
is the source of deep satisfaction that comes from God Himself. Christians too often let circumstances or
difficult relationships determine their joy. That focus creates a Jesus flavored life. Instead, a Jesus-filled
life happens when the Holy Spirit helps us appropriate God’s love and grace and celebrate the presence of
the Lord. It’s when the Holy Spirit helps us live in an attitude of thankfulness and openness to be used by
the Holy Spirit each day in others’ lives.
I knew Mason was right about God’s gift of joy and about his surprise that it wasn’t more evident among
Christians. In fact, he makes that claim about himself. He says:
“I haven’t been a happy person by nature. Some people are, but I’m a bundle of nerves who has
moved most of his life in a state of anxious, borderline depression. I didn’t realize what was going on
until my late twenties when I finally crashed big-time and ended up in Alcoholics Anonymous. Later,
when I’d been a Christian for 10 years, I dropped into an even deeper depression. So happiness has not
been my strong suit, which is why I needed to experiment with joy. The way to break an addiction is to
replace it with something stronger. To break my addiction to alcoholic spirits, I had to develop a taste for
true spirituality. To break my addiction to the cheap wine of melancholy, I had to seek God’s champagne
of joy for the soul.” (Mike Mason, Champagne for the Soul, Regent College Publishing, 2003, p.1).
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So Mason began his 90 day experiment with joy and wrote his book about it. His experiment
sounded like a Holy Spirit prompting to me as well, so I began my 90 experiment with joy in
January. I’m still on it and plan to stay on it the rest of my life! It is the kind of focus I need. It keeps
me from a negative spirit of grumbling or complaining to the Lord in hard situations. If we live with such
a self-focus, we are Jesus flavored – He’s in there but 5 or 6 ingredients down past the other areas which
have higher priority – including ourselves! I want to be a Jesus filled Christian. That’s the normal
Christian life, so every time I get in a situation that would make me complain inwardly to the Lord, He
redirects my heart to Him and makes me focus on His reasons for joy. It’s a 24/7 process - to just
celebrate Him and see what he is doing and take every opportunity alone and with others to sing psalms
and hymns and spiritual songs in our heart to the Lord (Eph.5:19) . Joy helps me have a Jesus filled soul.
This morning I want to focus on how that joy is multiplied through prayer. Jesus told the disciples
to ask in His name and you will receive and your joy will be full.(Jn.16:24). Naturally, He’s right!
Prayer is like oxygen. It is how we keep hooked up to God all day long – always living in the surrounding
presence of God, always looking to see what God is doing and how He wants to use us in His plan. I have
several prayer partners who also have this focus. Most of them are not in this area so throughout the week
– via long distance calls- I am involved in serious intercession with one or another of them. We also have
prayer as a central commitment in our house church. That’s why every week we have a time of witness
when people share what they have seen God do during the week. That usually brings joy as we hear
stories of God’s intervention, God’s kindness, God’s mercy, God’s deliverance. A joyful Christian is a
Jesus-filled Christian.
To add to your joy today I want to share 2 stories. The first true story shows us the kind of God we pray
to who does marvelous things. The second story is an intercession story.
Story #1
“One day in 2005 a 12 year old Ethiopian girl was abducted by 7 violent men, intending to
force her into marriage. The men held the girl for 7 days, beating her repeatedly. Such incidents are
common in Ethiopia as several men band together to abduct young girls for the purpose of securing a
bride. The girls are typically beaten into submission and raped. In this particular instance, there was not a
human being within earshot to hear the cries of this girl. [But God heard.]
In response to the girl’s cries for help three large lions leapt from the bush and chased her captors
away. Then, remarkably [as if on order from their Creator], they formed a protective perimeter around
her. A half-day later, when the police arrived, the guardian lions simply stood up and walked away. Sgt.
Wondimu said, ‘They stood guard until we found her and then they just left her like a gift and went back
into the forest. ..Everyone thinks this is some kind of miracle.” The story was reported on CNN in June
2005. (“Lions Free Kidnapped Girl, CNN.com, 6/21/2005) That story leads me to great praise because of our
remarkable God who is still in charge of this planet and hears the cry of a helpless abused Ethiopian girl.
Story #2
The second story is the kind of story we may have actually experienced ourselves or participated in for
someone else. “In the winter of 2007, Linda, a close friend of the storyteller, was felled by not one but
two brain aneurysms. For weeks she lingered on life support, growing weaker each day. As her
condition deteriorated, her children were called in to say their goodbyes, and her church prepared for a
funeral. Then Linda suddenly snapped out of her coma. As she came to, she looked over at her husband
and asked, "Where is everybody else?" Shaking his head, he explained, "They allow only one of us at a
time in the ICU. There is no one else here."
Linda argued, "No, I heard them. They were all speaking at the same time, and there were
hundreds of them, too. Some of them I knew; others I didn't. But they were all around me. They were
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here!" Linda's husband assured her that all those people had never been in the room. He initially thought
that Linda must have been hallucinating. Some people thought that Linda had seen and heard angels. [But
the real answer brings the kind of joy Jesus talked about in John 16:24:]
A few days after her miraculous recovery, Linda discovered that a large prayer chain had been
created to pray for her. This group had been formed when news of her condition was sent out to local
churches, and then it had spread to other groups throughout the region. Within days Linda's name had
been placed on hundreds of prayer lists and written in scores of prayer logs. For weeks, thousands were
praying for her each day. Her miraculous recovery convinced Linda of two things: the voices she heard
were of the people who had been praying for her, and those prayers had pulled her back from death's
door.” Ace Collins, Sticks and Stones (Zondervan, 2009), pp. 207-208
Isn’t that wonderful? God is able to do that. God answers prayer of faith in Jesus name for those
who pray led by the Holy Spirit. Life is full of suffering. But we are not alone. When we know Jesus
Christ, we are part of the Body of Christ and we can pray for one another, we can support one another,
we can love one another, we can comfort one another, we can counsel and teach one another, we can call
on the power of heaven to intervene for one another. All through the power of the Holy Spirit. This is the
privilege of a Jesus-filled life. Answers to prayer are a great reason for joy. God is able to transform
impossible situations for God’s glory.
Sometimes problems seem overwhelming, like Linda’s near death experience or even the abuse of the
Ethiopian girl. But God can still turn these situations around… and most often He uses His own
Jesus-filled people, like those thousands who prayed for Linda with faith in Jesus’ name. God wants us
to pray and not give up and trust that He is able to intervene. Joy comes in answer to those prayers of
faith and God gets all the glory. We’re here to tell His stories. (In fact, I could go on with story after
story, extolling marvelous answers to prayer that God taught us to pray, but that’s for another time)
Today I just want each one here to choose to be Jesus-filled through surrender to the Holy Spirit.
Then God can fulfill what He promised in Isaiah 61: He can turn our “ashes into a crown of beauty, our
mourning into the oil of joy, our spirit of despair into a garment of praise” (Isa. 61:3). Jesus filled
people don’t have less suffering. They just have more joy because they are living God’s life through the
Spirit’s control and in-filling. They choose to be sure Jesus is NOT on the periphery of their lives. They
want to know Him and the power of His resurrection and even share in the fellowship of His suffering, as
the Apostle Paul did.(Phil.3:10) Jesus-filled people trust God to fulfill all His promises and do all that He
has said. They believe God is the God of redemption and restoration and that gives inner joy.
That’s actually the story of Easter, isn’t it? God took the horrors of Christ’s sacrifice for our sins as the
Lamb of God and turned that into the wonder of Christ’s resurrection, ascension and Pentecost when the
Holy Spirit came. Our Easter God is the God of transformation, the author of victory and joy. He calls us
to live in the fullness of His life as we give the Holy Spirit control. But it’s our choice.
Therefore, this Easter season, der friends, let’s ask our risen Lord to reign in us. Let’s go deeper and
deeper in knowing and loving the Lord, becoming Jesus-filled Christians and being His prayer warriors so
we can pray as the Spirit directs us and bring joy and hope and healing to others.
As our opening praise song said: “Knowing you, Jesus, knowing You, there is no greater thing. You’re
my all, you’re the best, you’re my joy, my righteousness and I love you Lord.” And I love you Lord. I
say “Amen” to that! God CAN help us live a Jesus-filled life, full of joy and many answers to prayer.
Hallelujah! Let us pray.
Dr. M.L. Codman-Wilson
3/25/12
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Jesus flavored or Jesus filled? CUMC Elmhurst