In the summer of 1967, I had a life-transforming experience. I was in a department store with my mother and grandmother and, as usual, they let me wander off to the toy section alone (something one would never allow a five year old to do today). It was while walking up and down the aisles, searching each new toy on the shelf, that I came across the most amazing thing I had ever seen in my life, Mattel’s Strange Change Machine.
It was a device that would grow strange prehistoric creatures from tiny “time capsules”. I stared at it for fifteen minutes mesmerized by the picture on the box. It depicted a T-Rex growing in this magical time chamber. Even though the box was only about two feet cubed, I envisioned that this device was somehow the size of our house. I could put it in the backyard, I thought, and grow a full-sized T-Rex. We didn’t have any pets at the time, so I was determined that, if I couldn’t have a triceratops, I was going to have a T-Rex. When my mother came to gather me from the toy department, I begged for the Strange Change Machine. “Maybe for your birthday,” she said. I was disappointed, but since my birthday was only a few weeks away, I dealt with it.
Sure enough, my birthday rolled around. I unwrapped my present and there it was - Mattel’s Strange Change Machine! I stared at the picture again, there was that giant time machine and the T-Rex I was going to have in my backyard. Needless to say, when I opened the box, I found something quite different.
No house-sized time chamber. No real T-Rex. Just a hard plastic tile that you heated up, and made an awful smell that caused my father to search the house for a hidden electrical fire (If you had Creepy Crawlers or an EZ Bake Oven you know what I’m talking about). It expanded into a two-inch dinosaur that burned my fingers when I picked it up. This class action lawsuit waiting to happen had a deep effect on me.
Since then, I am always amazed when I buy a product and it actually does what it claims. Take pain relievers, for instance. When I was a kid suffering from severe earaches, the only pain relief available was St Joseph’s Aspirin for Children. I came in tiny chewable orange flavored pills and basically did nothing. So I am pleasantly surprised when, as an adult, I take ibuprofen for a headache and the pain actually goes away. The product actually produced results.
I discovered the same thing about exercise and diet. It was something I always wanted to do since my teen years but was always disappointed with the results. Now in hindsight, I realize that my disappointment was my own fault and stemmed from not sticking with it. For a week, I would work out or cut out junk food food, stop, and then complain how it didn’t do any good. Several years ago, I decided to begin exercising, eating right, and sticking with it. I bought some exercise DVD’s and, much to my surprise, I started seeing results. I lost weight, had more energy and felt better. Imagine that, I thought, unlike the Strange Change Machine of my childhood, this product actually exceeded my expectations.
A few weeks into my exercise regimen, a nagging and seemingly unrelated thought kept creeping into my mind. Why isn’t my experience with Jesus like my experience with exercise? If I were completely honest, my experience with Jesus, church and God was often more like my experience with the Strange Change Machine ending in unmet expectations. I thought following the path of Jesus would lead to me being happier, more secure and more certain about God. Looking back, following Jesus had often provided underwhelming results; conflict, insecurity and uncertainty. It was the melted plastic T-Rex all over again. Why wasn’t following Jesus like exercise? After all, if you work out and eat right, and actually stay with it, you will lose weight and get in better shape. Why couldn’t Jesus deliver guaranteed results like that?