When we were kids we rarely if ever had major brand products in our home. For example, we didn’t have Coke products. We drank a substitute: Shasta Cola. We were told it was just like Coca Cola. It wasn’t. We never had Dr. Pepper in our home. We had Mr. Pibb instead. Again, we were told it was just like Dr. Pepper, except it was better. It wasn’t. They were substitutes … for the real thing.

Substitutes have become a major part of life. Most stores have their own brand or substitute for virtually any product you can imagine. Whether it’s something as simple as cereal or cleaning products. Ever hear of I CAN’T BELIEVE IT’S NOT BUTTER? It’s not.

Even the fashion industry has substitutes. Ray-Ban, Rolex, Supreme and Louis Vuitton are reported to be the most copied brands worldwide and Nike is the most counterfeited brand. Name brand jeans, watches, jewelry and shoes all have substitutes the sellers will swear are just like the real thing, except they aren’t.

I’ve been offered all kinds of different meats over the years that people have said, “Try it. It tastes like chicken.” And I always say the same thing, “I’d rather have chicken than something that tastes like it.”

For the past several weeks we’ve all had to deal with substitutes. Some good, some not so good. For example, many people have had to work from home in a makeshift office rather than their normal one. A substitute. Children and youth all over the world, instead of getting to be in school with their friends and favorite teachers, have had to study and learn alone (in most cases) in a substitute system either online or being taught at home by mom and dad. In some cases that has been great. In others, not so much.

The new normal we’ve all had to adapt to is not an acceptable substitute for the life we’ve always lived and loved. So how should we respond?

Several times we’ve picked up food from a favorite restaurant to eat at home. One time in particular I was so excited when Angela arrived home with a bag of my favorite local broasted chicken for us to enjoy. It was still nice and warm and the first bite was so good. But … it wasn’t as good as being there. It was a substitute and the substitute is never as good as the real thing.

Even with church, we’ve had to settle for a substitute for the last several weeks: online services. While it’s been great to have a digital experience, it can’t hold a candle to the REAL experience. Corporate worship by definition means gathering with other people. Something Scripture mandates (Hebrews 10:24-25). Worshipping, serving, ministering, even fellowshipping digitally (can someone say ZOOM call?) is not the same as being there.

If we want to produce full-time saints and front-line soldiers for Christ, there’s no substitute for being there (Acts 2:42-47). Thankfully, ON CAMPUS services are starting to make a comeback now at churches around our state and our country. Our own church has set a tentative comeback date for Sunday morning, June 7th. Of course, we continue to monitor closely the COVID-19 situation in our area.

Wayne Smith, one of my favorite preachers from years gone by, used to tell the story about a young soldier and his fiancée who said goodbye at the airport before he was shipped overseas to serve his country. The young soldier reaffirmed his love for his bride-to-be and promised to write every day, which he did with unwavering dedication and consistency. But she ended up marrying the mailman. Why? Because there’s just no substitute for being there.

If online is all you can do for a while, that’s okay. But don’t let it become all you do.

Don’t settle for substitutes!

In His Grip