from the desk of …The real thing

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By Doug O’Brien, Lt. Colonel

The scale that sits on the floor next to the kitchen has been calling out to me, “Be a man. Stand up!” The problem was that I’d been putting on weight.

This whole weight gain thing was strange to me. A long time ago when I was in shape, I weighed 180 pounds. But when I got out of shape and lost muscle tone, I actually lost a few pounds. Eventually my weight crept back up to 180 pounds. Then somehow it was 190 pounds. When the scale started reading 203, 205 and 201 on different days, I thought, “This has got to stop.”

I thought about exercising, but that was as far as it got—thinking about it. I did, however, switch to a zero calorie drink and that’s when things started getting better.

I’m a label reader and that zero calorie drink used a sweetener I’d never heard about—a stevia plant extract. I searched the web. The stevia plant has been used as a natural sweetener for hundreds of years. The sugar substitute industry apparently lobbied the FDA to keep stevia from being used as a food additive. Japan has used stevia-derived products for decades. Now the Cargill company is marketing TruVia and PepsiCo is marketing PureVia, both stevia-based products. They are sweeter than sugar and have zero calories. I love my zero calorie drink.

TruVia tastes like sugar and it looks like sugar. But it doesn’t have the calories of sugar. It’s kind of like eating nothing at all.

Zero calorie foods are a theme you can find in the Bible. For example, the writer to the Hebrews says that Christians ought to be eating solid food—food that would help them distinguish good from evil. But he says some Christians are clearly living on milk rather than meat, since they don’t have a clue about what it means to live a life pleasing to God (Heb. 5.12-14). Their behavior, their actions, have more in common with the sinner than the saint. They seem to lack a moral compass. They’re kind of overdosing on a zero calorie food supplement. They eat all they want, but it’s just like eating nothing at all.

For years Coca Cola has flirted with the marketing concept, “It’s the real thing,” using the phrase in the United States, and in Spain and Australia during the late 1960s and 70s. The company also used variations on that theme: “Look for the real things,” “America’s real choice,” and “Can’t beat the real thing.” If you want a real Coke today, however, you have to get the stuff bottled in Mexico. Mexican Coke is sweetened with “real” sugar.

Not to be outdone, Pepsi stepped up with its own drink, “Pepsi Throwback.” The chief selling point of “Pepsi Throwback” is evidently that it is made with “real” sugar, which may make it the real thing as well.

Sugar may be the real deal, but it is not without its detractors. The problem with sugary drinks, I’m told, is empty calories—sugar has no nutritional value.

Paul uses a classic phrase in his second letter to Timothy. He warns Timothy about people who have a “form of godliness” but deny its power (2 Tim. 3:5). Of course, Paul wasn’t talking about food at all. But stretching this food analogy, we know the value of food is in the strength, or nutrition it provides. We would expect these Christians—the ones who have the form of godliness without its power—to disappear when there’s trouble. These people have no stamina, no staying power. They are like people who have been eating “empty calories”—food that has no nutritional value.

One of my best memories is of a meeting at a campfire pit with some fine Salvationists at Western Music Institute. That evening, they shared Scripture verses that had impacted their lives. For 30 minutes, these young people shared portions of Scripture they had committed to their hearts. The verses just came pouring out. I got a blessing and the feeling that these were well-nourished Christians. No junk food junkies here—they all had generous stores of nutritious food for the soul.

With all the talk about weight gain and weight loss—you “Biggest Losers” out there—here’s the final word about food and drink: If it is a question of food or drink, or any other thing, whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31 BBE).

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