I like to cook.
Cooking is therapeutic. It relaxes me.
The process of preparing a meal consisting of who-knows-what ingredients has a way of taking a load off my mind regardless the amount of time and effort involved.
But, as comforting as it is for me to do the cooking, what’s equally calming is watching others cook, especially those who know what they’re doing (unlike yours truly), because in addition to the curative benefits that come from observing talented people demonstrate their culinary prowess, it’s also a good opportunity to learn and try new approaches with various elements with which I may or may not be familiar.
One of the ways I like to do this is by watching the program Chopped, hosted by Ted Allen, on the Food Network.
Now, perhaps you’re already acquainted with the show, but if not, Chopped brings together four chefs from diverse cultural and professional backgrounds to face-off in a competition consisting of three strictly-timed rounds: appetizer, entrée, and dessert.
At the conclusion of each round, a panel of three highly-trained, well-traveled, super-critical culinary experts determines which chef is worthy of the coveted title of ‘Chopped Champion’ and winner of the accompanying $10,000 cash prize.
The pace of activity can get pretty frenetic as each chef races against the clock to prepare, from a basket of “mystery ingredients”, an original, tasteful, and well-presented meal that distinguishes him or her from their competitors, each of whom is also working with the same basket of ingredients.
A cardinal rule of Chopped is that each ingredient in the mystery basket – every single one – must be used in some kind of way. This is a non-negotiable. To omit or misuse any ingredient could prove costly when it comes time to go before “the dreaded Chopping Block”, as Allen would say, when one chef per-round is eliminated, or “chopped”, from the competition.
The last chef standing at the end of the dessert round is named the “Chopped Champion”.
One of the cool things to me about Chopped is as interesting as it is to watch a group of talented chefs compete against one another, what’s even more interesting is that the show is probably just as notable for how unpredictable, extreme and, what I can only describe as utterly disgusting, many of the mystery ingredients are that are included in the baskets the chefs are provided with.
And when I say “disgusting”, I mean exactly that. I’m talking about things that the average human being would consider only borderline edible. For example, just the other night there was an episode in which cow eyeballs was one of the mystery ingredients during the entrée round.
That’s right. Cow eyeballs.
I mean, who in the world eats cow eyeballs?
And I won’t even mention some of the other outrageous ingredients I’ve seen (in case you’re reading this as you’re eating.)
But, I digress…
Given the extent to which that particular episode with the cow eyeballs has stuck with me, I was pondering recently how the Church, in many ways, is a lot like an episode of Chopped.
Allow me to explain.
Like the show Chopped, the Church also has:
These are the members of the body of Christ. Redeemed sinners, saved by the grace of God alone (sola gratia).
Chefs have a heartfelt desire to serve God and feel qualified and equipped to do so, yet they are unsure exactly where they fit among the rest of the body. Though expressing an outward confidence in their talents and abilities, inwardly, however, many Chefs doubt whether they really belong in the body at all being unable to identify with or relate to other Chefs around them having been convinced, perhaps by a previous negative church experience, that their weaknesses will ultimately overshadow their strengths.
As such, Chefs tend to focus on their shortcomings.
They have an awareness that God impartially loves them and has uniquely gifted them to serve Him, yet this giftedness brings with it the burden that they may not measure up to the lofty expectations others have of them, and that if those standards aren’t met they may very well be condemned for it.
And, you know what? Oftentimes they are.
These are the watchers. The spies. The stalkers.
Judges struggle to exhibit God’s grace toward others. They are hard-wired legalists who are tantamount to the Sanhedrin of the Old Testament.
They are the influential, long-standing members of a congregation whose sole purpose in the church is to sit back and watch for you to slip up morally. It’s not that they want you to slip up, necessarily, but if and when you do, be prepared not only to pay but pay dearly for your mistakes because nothing slips by them. Nothing.
All that matters to Judges is judging. Period.
Terms like ‘mercy’ and ‘grace’ are either not a part of their vocabulary or, if they are, they are very rarely used.
These are the containers that house the “mystery ingredients” of our heart. That is, the sins of which only you and God know.
Baskets are the secret repository for all the shameful and embarrassing sins we’ve committed; sins we don’t want others in the church to see. We like Baskets because we can control what goes in them and what, if anything, comes out of them and when, if ever.
Our Baskets help us keep the “cow eyeballs” of our lives hidden deep within compartments we would be quite content to leave unopened, thank you very much, for fear that others will become aware of the vile ingredients that make us who we really are.
There is a certain finality to Chopped that should never be said of the Church.
This is not to say that the Church shouldn’t have boundaries, standards or expectations of those who comprise it. Not at all. For over 2,000 years the Church has done well to establish doctrinal parameters by which its members should conduct themselves.
Nevertheless, the Church must not be an environment where people are either penalized or rewarded based on how well (or not) they impress the “judges” of this world. Even to the extent that there are punitive consequences to a member of the body who sins, God’s Word cautions us to balance such judgment with grace:
“If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.” – 2 Thessalonians 3:14
I can only imagine how the Church would have dealt with the apostle Peter who, although he repeatedly denied even knowing the Lord Jesus, was restored to fellowship with Christ and the disciples, as evidenced by the fact that Peter was the only disciple mentioned by name in the instructions given at the Empty Tomb to Mary Madeline, among others, that the disciples were to meet their resurrected Savior in Galilee.
I can’t help believing that, were it left up to you and me, Peter would have been “chopped” from the body of Christ permanently despite the repentant tears he shed over his sin.
Yes, sin has consequences, and sometimes those consequences mandate godly discipline (ecclesiastical and personal). However, such discipline should never be meted out apart from the simultaneous application of God’s grace. Even in instances where the most egregious of sins has been committed, the appropriation of God’s grace and mercy must be a constant consideration:
“It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife. I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” – 1 Corinthians 5:1, 5
You see, what we often forget is that each of us has ingredients in our Basket that make us unworthy before the Judge of all the earth. Not a single one of us is capable of standing before God on our own merits. Not one.
But, like an elegantly presented meal prepared by the most gifted of culinary talents, we would prefer people value us based on our outward appearance as opposed to our innate spiritual depravity and who we are on the inside.
In other words, we want people to think our meal tastes good simply because it looks good.
If we were honest with ourselves, we would have to admit that we don’t really want others to know that there are cow eyeballs mixed in with the Filet Mignon we’re serving, only it’s so finely pureed that no one can actually tell it’s in there.
God is most glorified when the body of Christ, empowered by His Holy Spirit, endeavors to build His church using all the ingredients in the Basket – all of them – even the ones at which we have a tendency to turn up our noses.
With this reality in mind, we must not be so prideful as to think we are better than anyone else. Christians are permitted to judge, yes, but we are not permitted to condemn. That is reserved for God alone, for there will come a day when each of us, Chefs and Judges alike, will be judged by the Creator of all the universe on the contents of our Basket.
The only question then will be, when God searches the Basket of your heart will Jesus Christ be among the ingredients found there?
Think about it.
For thus says the high and exalted One who lives forever, whose name is Holy, “I dwell on a high and holy place, and also with the contrite and lowly of spirit in order to revive the the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.” – Isaiah 57:15
God Uses Flawed People to Share Hope to a Flawed World by Jarrid Wilson
Forgiveness: a Mark of a Healthy Church by Joseph Novenson
The Mandate to Forgive from Ligonier Ministries