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Keeping The Faith

It all began in 1980 when the executives of the one of the largest companies in the world, secretly commissioned a scheme named “Project Kansas.” The commission had the most daunting task any group of business people could be given: Re-engineer a product, re-package it, and successfully market it to re-gain the falling market share of the last thirty years.

So the commission got to work. They completely redesigned their product and its packaging, conducted field tests, focus groups, sample marketing, and extensive surveys. And the results were strong.

The new product was favored by consumers, over the old one, nine to one. So, with great anticipation, on April 23, 1985, the company stopped production of its older, now antiquated product and unveiled to the world its new creation: New Coke.

Now, I grew up a couple of hours from the Atlanta headquarters of Coca-Cola. The company and drink have been so influential in that neck of the woods that every carbonated drink on the market is simply referred to as “a Coke.” It’s not “pop.” It’s not “soda.” It’s not “cola.” It’s not root beer, Sprite, Pepsi, or Dr. Pepper. It is Coke. The flavors of the Coke are secondary. But not in 1985.

New Coke was a disaster, especially in the southeast. That 10% minority that didn’t like the new product, not only didn’t like it, they felt betrayed. Lobbing organizations were formed, public protests were staged, Coke had to hire additional staff to respond to complaints, Coke signs were booed at major sporting events; even Fidel Castro complained.

Three months after its launch, the company made the announcement that old coke, “Coca-Cola Classic,” would return to the market place; an announcement so important that Peter Jennings interrupted General Hospital to tell the nation. And by the end of the year, just eight months after the fiasco had begun, the Classic formula was outselling every cola product on the market, a position it has not given up to this day.

Coca-Cola’s continued success is due largely to the fact that its leadership had the courage to admit it had the wrong product, returned to its original formula. They succeeded, not because of product innovation, but because of product restoration. They went back, in order to go forward. Maybe the church should do the same.

See, a lot has changed in the church over the years. There have been renewals, schisms, reformations, changes in style, music, and architecture. Many of these changes have been cosmetic and cultural. But some of these changes have been a reformulation of the “original formula” so to speak.

We admire, love, and quote Jesus, our originator, but we look, sound, and preach so very different than he did. We often speak of the good news of the gospel as a way of getting healthier, wealthier, and wiser; or as a therapeutic device to help us with our anxieties; or as a means of escaping this present world – taste tests prove this is what consumers like.

But the gospel that Jesus preached was that the good news that the kingdom of God had arrived. This kingdom wasn’t for our personal comfort. It wasn’t a disembodied place on a cloud with halos and golden harps. This kingdom wasn’t a spiritual ticket that guaranteed a seat on the glory train to heaven upon death.

Rather, Jesus’ message was that the rule of God had been brought to bear in the present world: “God has moved into the neighborhood,” to use Eugene Peterson’s vivid phrase. Jesus did not come to live in your heart like an imaginary friend. He came to bring you into thekingdomofGodthat you might be a part of God’s ministry of justice, compassion, and mercy.

He came, not to give you peace about the afterlife per se, though he will, but he came to revolutionize the life you live today. The objective, according to Jesus, was not to get people into heaven, but to get heaven inside of people. That is a formula that can change the world.

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