Imaginary Jesus

Imaginary Jesus

bobble-head-jesus

Bobble Head Jesus

This week we started our new series, UNTAMED (click here to catch up on the latest sermon). The series looks at our tendency  to “tame” God down to a more manageable size. Of course, God cannot be tamed. Instead, God invites us out of our shallow views of Him into the unfathomable depths of His presence.

One of the dangers of trying to tame God is that we reducing Him to an idol. An imaginary god with no real power or presence in our lives. In Exodus 32 Israel created an idol, the golden calf. One of the interesting things about the story is that Israel wasn’t trying to replace God. Israel still wanted a connection with Yahweh, but on their own terms. Exodus 32:5-6 makes this clear.  To celebrate the new idol they held a festival to the LORD, Yahweh, the God of Israel. They made burnt offerings and peace offerings like nothing had changed in their worship. They weren’t completely abandoning their faith. They still wanted a connection with Yahweh. They decided to move forward on their own terms, with a tame God who made them feel more comfortable.

Isn’t this what we are tempted to do? Jesus, Lion of Judah, King of kings, Mighty God, is intimidating. He doesn’t fit into our agendas. He threatens our personal kingdom building projects. He challenges us and humbles us in ways that makes us uncomfortable.  So we tame Jesus. We do not completely abandon Jesus. We create an “imaginary Jesus” that better fits our agenda. Who makes us feel more comfortable. We still “believe” in Jesus. We still go to church, sing the songs, listen to the sermons, read our bible, etc. But deep down we don’t have a relationship with the real Jesus. As a consequence our hearts are no longer burning with love for Jesus, because an imaginary Jesus is not lovely. And our lives are not characterized by the power of Jesus, because an imaginary Jesus is not real.

Deep down I think we are all tempted to tame Jesus and create an imaginary Jesus that makes us more comfortable. Here are 6 imaginary Jesus we might be tempted follow. All of them keep an element of truth about who Jesus is, but conveniently tame other aspects of who Jesus is.

 

  1. Hipster Jesus

This is the cool Jesus. The culturally relevant Jesus. He’s wears nerd glasses and cuffed skinny jeans, the one’s so tight he’s jeopardizing his future children. He has a big fluffy mustache. He rides his bike everywhere, even if it’s raining. He buys organic, non-GMO, fair trade coffee. He’s active in politics and faith, but not too active to be weird. He’s likable and loves everyone, except he secretly distains people who drink instant coffee.

We all want to be liked and fit in. So it is tempted to make Jesus fit it in with our culture. If Jesus is more likable, then we will fit in better. The problem is popular culture is always changing and no human culture is perfect. Jesus came to transform all cultures through the gospel. He calls us not to conform to the world, but to transform the world through the gospel.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

 

  1. Bobble Head Jesus

Most of us are frantically working to stay on top of things. We would like to believe that we are in control. We might drift into a view of Jesus that is distant and uninvolved in the day to day things of our lives. We put Bobble Head Jesus on the dash of our car or on our desk at work. When we need him, we just rub his head for good luck. Our lives are often filled with sporadic short prayer requests for help and comfort. “Jesus, help me not to die in my sleep.” “Heal me.” “Thank you that I have more food and stuff than 90% of the world.” “Help me to get an A on my next test.”

There’s nothing wrong with asking Jesus to help us or being thankful for our abundant material blessings. However, if the bulk of our conversations with Jesus are short little personal prayer requests, something is wrong. Maybe we’ve reduced Jesus down to the size of a bobble head good luck charm. Jesus is Immanuel, God with us. Jesus, the God who is with us, is the hope of the Scriptures. Jesus had made a way for all people to live in intimate relationship with God.

 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. (John 6:26)

 

  1. Jesus is my Homeboy Jesus

The endless grace of God is probably the most powerful and unique aspect of the Christian faith. But haven’t we all been tempted to reduce the grace of God into a license to let sin and laziness go unchecked in our lives. We all go through seasons where we just want to throw off restrain and live by our own rules. It’s tempting to turn Jesus into a friend who is always there for us, always forgives us, and always encourages us. The problem is that this Jesus will let you destroy yourself. He doesn’t really love you. I love my two daughters. When I see them hurting themselves I respond in love to correct and guide them.

You are my friends if you do what I command you. (John 15:14)

 

  1. Perpetually Angry Jesus

We all come into our walk with Jesus with brokenness. Many of us slide into believing that God is constantly disappointed with our repeated sinfulness. I remember early on in my faith I believed that Jesus was mad at me every time I sinned. I thought he would stay disappointed with me until I proved my faithfulness again. People who live with Angry Jesus are driven by their fear and anxiety that they are not good enough. They have not learned to rest in the finished work of Jesus or received their status as a beloved child of God.

10 And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:10-13)

 

  1. CEO Jesus

Many of us competitively compare ourselves to others and measure our worth by how successful we are. It is easy to turn our Christian lives into a competition. We can start to follow a CEO Jesus that dictates every facet of our lives. The problem is that placing our value in our performance, instead of the performance of Jesus, is ultimately crushing.  We will titer totter between pride and despair. When we are successful it fills us with pride and arrogance. When we fail it fills us with despair. CEO Jesus has no grace or tenderness to help us grow through our brokenness.

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

 

  1. Self-Help Jesus

Jesus died for me, so let’s keep the focus on ME. Selfishness is at the root of almost all our problems. Jesus can become our self-help guru who encourages us to realize our personal dreams. Self-Help Jesus serves my plans to be rich, comfortable, and happy. The problem is that life is not about our glory, it is about God’s glory. Focusing on our personal happiness is the equivalent of trying to build a kingdom that rivals God’s. In the end we will build a life that has no substance and God’s kingdom alone will stand in eternity.

35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. (Mark 8:35)

 

So what Imaginary Jesus are you tempted to follow? There are far more than six tame versions of Jesus out there. What Imaginary Jesus’ have you seen walking amongst us? Leave a comment below.

 

For further reading on this subject check out:

My Imaginary Jesus by Matt Mikalatos

Yawning at Tigers: You Can’t Tame God, So Stop Trying by Drew Dyck

5 Responses

  1. Mike Sparrow says:

    Pastor Will, great post! I really appreciate your analogy in “Homeboy Jesus.” When we see people we love (ie. our kids) engaging in behavior that is harmful, the best way to show that we care is to step in and correct the behavior. Jesus, viewing us as His children, wants us to correct our harmful behavior rather than giving us an “anything goes” pass. He taught hard lessons because He loves us, and ultimately wants us to have more fruitful lives. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the ways we transform Jesus. I’m personally guilty of all of these from time to time but the “Bobble Head” Jesus really struck a chord. I like to call him the “Genie” Jesus, who I only communicate with when I want something. My goal this week is to bring God my praises!

  2. Gabe says:

    Nice work! I know I can remember of few times I have tamed Jesus. I appreciate the take on how your lives can become something you had not imagined it would.

  3. Kathy says:

    Thanks Will for writing the blog post. It is thought provoking and well written. You’ve given me some things to examine at and pray about in my life. I look forward to more posts.

  4. Cheryl Johnson says:

    So true how we recreate Jesus in our own image, to fit our needs. We will need to connect you with Matt Mikalatos, author of My Imaginary Jesus. He’s the son of Marc’s sister’s best friend and lives here in Vancouver. His next book launch is November 20th, we should go together! Such a small world!

  5. Erin says:

    What other Jesus’s do I creative in my brain to cope with my day, to cope with myself?
    Hipster Jesus is palatable. Especially when so much of what I see the conservative christian right do makes me cringe. Where’s the Jesus that tells me he created me this way for a reason, that the uglier (sinful) parts of me are just a part of who i am- even beautiful when cast in the right light. The Jesus who tells me I should celebrate and liberate these parts of me.
    Of coarse, there is Shady Jesus who says they are fine behind closed doors- “as long as I am not hurting someone else Jesus”, it’s fine.
    I don’t like the What-are-you-doing-with-your-short-wasted-life-Jesus…but he’s there too, reminding me I could run my car off the road texting any day and what exactly have I done with my pathetically easy little life that was suppose to BE something. The “To Much Has been Given Much Will Be Expected” Jesus.

    The problem isn’t that Jesus isn’t these things- the problem is that He is, just a little. There is grace, truth, love, correction, even scripture twisted up with my versions of Jesus that are also covered in shame, weakness, pacifying complacency, conformity, over acceptance and distance that makes him really seem make believe.

    Do I want my version of Christ? No not really. Do I want a tame God? Absolutely not- until he is asking me to do something crazy that I really do not want to do- like be a prophetess. Like be alone in my faith. Then I don’t want that wild God, at least I haven’t chosen that wild God yet.
    I’m afraid. Not so afraid that I am not being honest. Just fearful enough that I haven’t moved forward. Yet.

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