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[Jesus-centered] In Pursuit of Lesser Gods

This weekend the new documentary The Armstrong Lie debuted. The film explores the Lance Armstrong scandal from an unusual perspective—lessarmstrong 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…



9 thoughts on “[Jesus-centered] In Pursuit of Lesser Gods

  1. Wow. Great article, great list of observations from Matthew. Loved that!

    • Rick Lawrence

      Jason, thanks so much… I wonder what kind of list we could all compile if we used the “Jesus said and did” filter whenever we read the gospels—I think the momentum of this practice produces a level of worship we crave but only rarely experience….

  2. Great work sir, quite revealing and refreshing. I regularly get your newsletter and I can attes to the impact its making even in my life. Please keep the dlag flying

    • Rick Lawrence

      Ayo, thanks so much for sharing this with me. Grateful for your open heart…

  3. Michael Huss


    Let me start with a disqualifier, I’m not a ministry professional, I am not a Bible Scholar, and I have had a very tumultuous faith journey to say the least. But I’m where I need to be now, solid in my faith and my relationship with God.

    I read your blog because I have a teenage daughter (and soon to be teenage son) that I try hard to not only understand at times, but to equip to deal with today’s world while maintaining their faith and morals. I always gain insight and advice from your blog and other articles I wouldn’t get to without your help. I can’t thank you enough for that.

    I’ve just started my second reading of Thom and Joani Shultz’s book “Why Nobody Wants To Go To Church Anymore.” As I read your blog this morning, a clear note was struck in my understanding of what Thom and Joani observed and suggested as solutions to the crisis in the church today. We (as a faith community in general) treat Jesus as a history lesson, not a current events lesson. We talk about the historical Jesus in church and Bible studies, not the Jesus of TODAY who was there with me when I had a car accident I shouldn’t have walked away from. The Jesus of TODAY who inspires people to help the homeless and poor in His name daily, and so many more examples of His hand guiding others to do Christ-like things. Without recognizing His hand at work, there is a vacuum for many which is were the “lesser gods” get their “air time” and “worship” as you observed in today’s blog. At least, that’s my view from the pew.

    In Matthew 25: 34-40 as Jesus explained to a confused flock:

    37… these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

    40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters,[c] you were doing it to me!’

    I think so many people struggle with seeing Jesus in the current day-not just as a history lesson on Sunday and Wednesday nights. When they don’t recognize the work of Jesus as His work, they focus their adoration on whomever is here in the now doing what they see as “good,” and miss the opportunity to worship the divine hand that inspires, guides and glorifies what has been done because of Him.

    Mother Teresa did amazing things BECAUSE she knew Jesus and dedicated her life to being like Him. She would be appalled to think anyone was worshipping her.

    Nelson Mandela was raised a Christian, and he embraced his beliefs fully as he changed while in prison, of that there is not doubt. He left his hate and propensity for violence behind to help heal deep wounds created over years of harsh treatment and inequality. In a very Christ-like manner, Mandela forgave those who imprisoned him, and showed what was possible with an open heart.

    Neither Mother Teresa or Nelson Mandela portrayed themselves as a god, and I have to believe if there are people who do “worship” them as you suggest, then they are worshipping the Christ-like lives they both strove to live. I just don’t think people truly realize what they are drawn to is Jesus working through us to change the world TODAY.

    I’ll take it one step further and say, in my opinion, the challenge of the waning church attendance is that the faith community doesn’t have the opportunity to equip many, many people in the modern world to recognize when they see God’s hand at work because they don’t go to church. It’s a perpetual downward spiral. People don’t recognize when they see God at work, therefore they don’t see a reason to go to church. When they don’t go to church, their children don’t go to church, and they never learn to see God at work. The pattern hasn’t changed for quite some time.

    That lack of opportunity to develop the skill to see “God moments” is why they falter in where to place their faith. They are drawn to, and the Divine, but don’t know “Who” Jesus is. How can you not be drawn to Jesus once you know Him? If people don’t know it’s Jesus’s hand at work, but they know in their hearts it’s right, I believe they fill the void with whomever is acting “Christ-like” at that moment not knowing the difference between the Divine, and the Divinely inspired. And that is when people get put into the “lesser gods” category. In the absence of divinity (or the ability to recognize God’s hand at work in this case), people tend to fill the void with whomever is inspiring at the moment. We’re a culture of the “now” with no long-term collective memory.

    Thom and Joani’s book talks about their Lifetree ministry and one of the four acts of love “Fearless Conversation.” It’s about the “now.” Our society is about today. Now. The near future. We have to find ways to help others see Jesus in the “now” if we are going to grow the church, and His Kingdom here on earth.

    I know it took years for me to realize when I had been in a “God moment” and what a change in my life it was when I realized Jesus wasn’t simply a historical figure, He was present and walking with me in my life TODAY in a very real way. I kept looking for Jesus as he was in the Bible stories of my youth. I finally realized my stories are very different than those of the people Christ interacted with in the first century (While in a “disagreement” with a semi truck while in my Mustang, When I met my now wife and felt love unlike any I had felt before. In the hospital when my son was fighting to take his first breath. On my cell phone with a friend who’s world was crumbling down when I didn’t know what to say, and many more), but that’s because it’s a different time, a different culture. Christ is still here TODAY, we just have to find ways to help others see Him. I believe that starts with talking about Jesus’ presence NOW, not just what he did in the first century.

    And maybe then we’ll recognize Jesus acting through people here on earth to help us all grow in our relationship with Him and preparing to meet Him when the time comes.

  4. Mark Siebert

    Thanks Rick!

    Redefining love – many of us demonstrate difficulty in understanding discipline as love or passionate zeal for the Lord as love. There is an expectation that to be a good Christian will not cause trouble or cause harm to us. The false gospel of comfort and self-sufficiency and tolerance seems great to many until tragedy exposes it for the imposter it is: a hollow, weak, unsatisfying, and insufficient shell of misguided ideals that sounded like Christianity. I pray for our youth, children and all the rest of us that we would love like Christ loved and not be deceived and deluded in this way.

    I’d apologize for sounding slightly radical, but that would be totally proving the point.

    • Rick Lawrence

      Mark, thanks so much for weighing in on this… If you come off slightly radical, it must be (to use Kyle Idleman’s phrase) you’re “not a fan” of Jesus because you’re a whole lot more than that…

  5. Nailed it! Nice post.

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[Jesus-centered] In Pursuit of Lesser...

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