This weekend the new documentary The Armstrong Lie debuted. The film explores the Lance Armstrong scandal from an unusual perspective—less interested in the well-publicized ways the seven-time Tour De France winner lied about using performance-enhancing drugs to dominate the cycling world and more interested in the way so many people have steadfastly refused to accept the bitter truth about him. It’s a film about our relentless pursuit of lesser gods. And it taps into a certain truth that we’d rather not admit:
We prefer lesser gods to Jesus.
Every day we’re served-up new evidence that proves this hard reality. In the aftermath of Nelson Mandela’s funeral, for example, a young South African spoken-word artist named Thabiso Mohare wrote a poem in honor of the great anti-Apartheid leader called “An Ordinary Man.” Here’s a portion:
And we watched the world weep
For a giant bigger than myths
A life owned by many
Now free as the gods
“Worshipful” is the best way to describe the tone that infuses this poem and all the other tributes that framed Mandela’s death and funeral. And people give themselves over to this feeling because it is easier and more acceptable to worship Nelson Mandela (or Mother Teresa or Steve Jobs or Lady GaGa or Anderson Cooper) than it is to worship the “Scandalon” who is Jesus. G.K. Chesterton said: “If you meet the Jesus of the gospels, you must redefine what love is, or you won’t be able to stand him.” This is so deeply true that I can’t stop myself from re-quoting this to friends and family almost every day. It is hard to “stand” Jesus if you’re really paying attention to what He did and what He said. He is the most redemptively disruptive person who ever walked the earth. Philosophy professor and C.S. Lewis scholar Dr. Peter Kreeft once told a class of Boston University students: “Christ changed every human being He ever met…. If anyone claims to have met Him without being changed, he has not met Him at all. When you touch Him, you touch lightning…”
Jesus alone is worthy to be worshipped, but not because we’re “supposed to”—everything Jesus said and did fits together into a perfect mirror of the God we can’t see, but long to know. And the image of God we see in Jesus will bowl us over and transform us, if we will only pay attention. Once, I decided to quickly read through the gospel of Matthew, seeking only to let this account of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection bluntly replace my misconceptions of who Jesus is and what He’s busy doing. Here are 15 observations I gleaned from that pursuit:
1. Jesus spent more time praying than speaking.
2. Jesus enjoyed spending time with self-confessed sinners.
3. Jesus said we’d know we were starting to make an impact when people started insulting, persecuting, and defaming us because of Him.
4. Jesus hated it when people hid themselves behind religious rule-keeping, and he told his followers to plunge themselves into the mainstream culture like a lamp in a dark room or salt added to a recipe.
5. Jesus spoke openly about hell and warned there are real consequences for those who cling to self-sufficiency and unbelief.
6. Jesus hated it when people prayed or served or sacrificed to boost their profiles or feed their egos.
7. Jesus was quick to forgive those who were repentant and quick to condemn those who weren’t.
8. Jesus said the richest people were those who’d banked a lifetime of actions that honored God.
9. Jesus told us to ignore people who talk big but don’t act big and to honor those who talk small but act big.
10. Jesus healed people of incurable diseases and permanent disabilities.
11. Jesus loved celebrations and enjoyed himself so much that the religious rule-keepers accused him of public drunkenness.
12. Jesus said, metaphorically, that farmers who sat around in the farmhouse waiting for corncobs to launch themselves through the door were sadly misinformed about the concept of “harvesting.”
13. Jesus said our loyalty to Him and His ways should outweigh our loyalty to our biological family and its traditions and practices.
14. Jesus told us not to focus our energies on fighting sin (pulling weeds), but instead to do everything we can to encourage good growth (growing wheat).
15. Jesus said the root of our lack of faith is our penchant to forget the acts and character of God—our biggest faith battle is remembering to remember God.
Even in this little experiment, it’s easy to understand why we prefer lesser gods to Jesus—He is consistently offensive to our Western Christian sensibilities, “inalienable rights,” and everyday self-absorbed behaviors.
And I am passionately, inexorably, and irreversibly drawn to Him.
What about you? If you’re worshipping lesser gods today, then it’s time to slow down and pay attention to Jesus. It won’t take long before you won’t be able to stand Him, and then you won’t be able to stop worshipping Him…