Generally speaking, we Americans like Jesus. There is a plethora of collectable paraphernalia to commemorate how much we like Jesus. Jesus is my homeboy t-shirts. Jesus dolls. Jesus action figures. We find Jesus in burnt toast, and my personal favorite, bacon grease. We like Jesus. We wear him, look for him, hangout with him and are generally just think he is a great guy.
It’s fine that our society likes Jesus so much, but if I am honest I don’t like Jesus as much as I think I do. Not really.
Writing that, even thinking that, is unnerving.
It challenges so much of my identity because, for as long as I can remember, I have always liked Jesus.
I grew up in church. Sunday morning worship, Sunday school, Sunday evening worship, youth group, Wednesday catechism, Cadets (think Boy Scouts with more Jesus and less bald eagle), and church summer camp are all part of my pedigree. Paul had his “circumcision on the eighth day,” but when it comes to the evangelical rites of passage, I think I may have him. That background alone makes it very unnerving to say “I don’t think I like Jesus as much as I think I do.”
Oh yeah, there is that last piece – I am a pastor.
With that background, it is very unsettling to begin to think that you don’t like Jesus as much as you think you do. Because you are supposed to. At summer camp we were told Jesus was our best friend. In youth group we were taught to like Jesus more than the opposite sex. Some people even said they dated Jesus?!? And it was all pitched as though it was something easy to do. Jesus is for you. He loves you. He is your homeboy. What’s not to like?
Well, for one there’s that whole bit about us forgiving our enemies. And not only are we to forgive them, but we are to do good to them.
I don’t like that.
Not one bit.
It is much easier to keep my enemies at a distance and seethe in quiet anger towards them. But Jesus says I can’t do that. He says I should pray for them. Yeah, I’ll pray for them. “Dear Lord, I pray my enemies would learn to see what horrible human beings they are. I pray their days are defined by ulcers and nosebleeds. Amen”
Probably not the prayer Jesus had in mind.
How could Jesus ask me to do that? Doesn’t he know me? Doesn’t he know what they have done to me? If this is what Jesus is asking me to do, then I don’t know if I like Jesus as much as I think I do.
Jesus told another guy that if he wanted to follow him he had to go and sell all his stuff. I’m not sure I am down with that. I have some neat stuff. I like my house – we have a great backyard with a two-level deck (they are a step apart, but I count it). I have a sweet grill – one with a burner on the side, the upper rack and it is stainless steel. It’s awesome.
Overall, I like my life. I like the creature comforts I have, the amenities my city offers, and the lifestyle I live. I like good food and good wine. And I’m not sure I want to give them up. So when Jesus says I need to be willing to give it all up, well, I am not so sure I like Jesus as much as I think I do.
Jesus also keeps digging past the surface and into the heart. He is constantly wanting to root out the things in me that keep me from being more obedient to him. I’ll admit it, that sounds great on paper, but it’s painful. It’s hard to constantly examine yourself, your actions, your impact on others, and your motives. Just for once I would like to ignore a few of those things. But Jesus won’t let me. And at times, I don’t like it that he won’t.
One cannot simply like Jesus. Jesus requires so much that if one simply likes Jesus they will not follow him. They will not make the life altering sacrifices necessary to be a disciple. Liking Jesus is a lukewarm response to a man who claimed to be God. You must either accept him and his claim of divinity or reject him. A lukewarm response to Jesus is to treat him as you would your favorite teacher in elementary school and like him. His claim of divinity means you must be willing to give him your entire life or you must think of him as a lunatic.
Don’t get me wrong, I like Jesus. But, and this is the kicker, I think I over estimate just how much I like him. In church world, I am supposed to like Jesus and so I’ve played the game fooling myself into thinking I like everything I have ever learned about Jesus. But that isn’t true. I can’t even say that about my wife (I know I need to be careful here). After we got married I learned there are things that *gasp* I’m not fond of. But we are still married, because our relationship is built on more than just liking one another.
We love one another (and yes, we like each other).
Love completely changes the game. Contrary to what every Jennifer Aniston (Lopez, Connelly, Love-Hewitt, Gardner) romantic comedy out there portrays, love is not simply a feeling. Love is remaining committed to someone even when you find out they leave their toenail clippings on the counter (for the record, my wife does not do this). Love is making friendship a priority and saying what needs to be said. Love is reconciling and forgiving. Love, real love as defined in the Bible stands the test of time saying, “I am with you and will always love you even when I don’t like you.”
I know Jesus doesn’t like everything about me. Jesus is ruthless in his pursuit to make me into his image. Which means, in his fierce love he asks me to change what he doesn’t like in me. My proclivity to pride and judgement, my failure to engage emotions and be authentic, my constant preoccupation with meaningless activity are all things Jesus doesn’t like in me. And the good news, the gospel news, is that Jesus doesn’t wait for me to change what he doesn’t like in me before he loves me.
He simply loves me.
And that changes everything.
Jesus tells us how to love him. He says if we love him we will keep his commandments. Which includes all those things I don’t like. And honestly, I wouldn’t do them if I just liked Jesus. I will only do them if I love him.
I don’t want to just like Jesus. I want to love him. Why? Because he loved first.
The move from “liking Jesus” to actually loving Jesus enables me to do what I don’t like. It becomes possible for me to trust that he isn’t after begrudging submission. When Jesus asks me to do things, even the things I don’t want to do, he is ultimately after my joy.
And that makes me want to do things – even the things I don’t like.
What do you think? Do you simply like Jesus? Or maybe more fun to discuss, what don’t you like about him?