Is loving Jesus really all that matters?

Last month, my wife started a new teaching assignment with a considerable commute. Now we find ourselves shopping for a new car.

The problem is, we can’t quite agree about what matters in a car choice. I’m hoping for a car with a good safety record and great fuel economy, but Becky simply wants a sky blue-color car with audio-control buttons on her steering wheel.

Becky’s still feeling a bit traumatized from my 1999 penny-pinching purchase of a salvaged, dark green station wagon. She and our kids found the color so humiliating that they dubbed it, “The Pickle.” Four years later, when my eldest daughter totaled the car, I thanked God for its safety record.

My family simply thanked God. (Rest in peace, my little green friend.)

Discounting her trauma, I took her to a European dealership that boasted cars with impeccable safety records and great gas mileage.

In the showroom we met Dave, a man wearing a sport coat, well matched to me in age, build and thinning hair. For the next hour, he took us on a quiet test drive, absent the usual sales chitchat. However, at some point in our drive, Becky made a random mention of our church.

That remark awakened our salesman enough to emphasize that, “loving Jesus is the most important thing.”

Assuming that loving Jesus involved accountability to a local congregation, Becky asked about his church.

“My church is Jimmy Swaggart,” he said with reference to the defrocked Assemblies of God televangelist who was twice caught with prostitutes.

“I watch Swaggart on TV and send him my tithe,” he said.

That prompted Becky to begin reading the freeway signs aloud, looking to exit both the conversation and the test drive.

Undeterred, he added, “I’m a media member.”

Unfamiliar with the term, I Googled “media member” on my Smartphone. Sure enough, if you pledge 10 percent of your earned income, you can join Swaggart’s virtual church.

Our new friend seemed unoffended by my preoccupation with my phone, because he just kept repeating, “loving Jesus is the most important thing.” I finally looked to see if he was wearing a “Just Love Jesus” colored wristband. He wasn’t.

Strangely enough, a smart-alecky professor once asked Jesus what he thought the most important thing was and Jesus replied that there were actually two important things.

1. Love the Lord your God with all your heart.

2. Love your neighbor as yourself.

The “Just Love Jesus” theology stresses the first part, but stumbles a bit with Jesus’ second expectation. The problem is that Jesus saw the two commandments as inextricably bound; you can’t follow one commandment to the neglect of the other.

So no, Mr. Salesman, we can’t “just love Jesus.” We must love our neighbor, too. And our “neighbor” isn’t just the nice lady sharing the backyard fence of our gated subdivision. Loving our “neighbor” includes loving sinners. But most of all, we have to know ourselves well enough to admit that if God loves me, he must certainly love us all.

At the end of our drive, the salesman told my disheartened wife that our test drive model didn’t come in blue. Becky, wanting to salvage at least a part of the day, handed the man a card from our church, inviting him to “come visit sometime.”

I wanted to add my best impression of a used car salesman by saying, “I promise our church can save you some money,” but thought that probably wouldn’t be very loving.

Norris Burkes is a syndicated columnist, national speaker and author.

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