Remember Lance Armstrong? He was an Olympic cyclist who held 7 championship titles for the Tour de France.
He was celebrated as a hero ― but that all ended when an exposé revealed Armstrong had secretly been using performance-enhancing drugs to win.
In the wake of the doping scandal, Armstrong went on television to give a public mea culpa. He confessed to Oprah Winfrey in 2013 that he had used steroids throughout his career (including during his seven Tour de France wins).
With profound regret, Armstrong said that his "mythic story was one big lie."
And so he fell from grace. Armstrong was stripped of his titles by the Cycling Gods (or what is called the Union Cycliste Internationale).
But why should it matter that he used steroids? Why does anyone care whether athletes dope?
Well, I suppose it's because if a person's success is artificial, then is it illegitimate? If our performance is bolstered by forbidden drugs, should we get the credit?
The worst doping scandal in history, though, was not in athletics.
It was in religion:
* We can run the race (with priestcraft)
* We can fight the good fight (with unrighteous dominion)
* We can finish the course (with Mammon)
* We can keep the faith (with the arm of flesh)
Such wonderful, awful drugs for religion!
Jesus didn't call it "dope," of course.
More poetically, the Savior called these spiritual steroids "the leaven of the Pharisees" (Matthew 16:6).
Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.
If I had been there, I probably would have been just as confused as the Lord's disciples; what on earth was He talking about?
And they reasoned among themselves, saying, It is because we have taken no bread.
Here the disciples make a literal interpretation (I can hear their stomachs grumbling with hunger). Was Jesus implying the Pharisees had poisoned their bread? Was his warning about food safety?
In perhaps the biggest divine eye roll in all of scripture, Jesus says in response to their befuddlement:
Do ye not yet understand, neither remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets ye took up?
I think there's a critically important subtext to these words. Jesus appears to be making a remarkable comparison between His gospel and the Pharisees' religion:
(1) the Pharisees made their "dough" appear bigger by using yeast, which caused the dough to puff up in the bowl. But yeast just creates air bubbles that collapse when you punch the dough down.
(2) the Son of Man, the Bread of Life, did not require "yeast" to rise. He was "unleavened" because He would rise by the power of the Father alone, not through manful attempts to spike the punch with a leavening ingredient ("the law").
Remember, Jesus kept the law; he fulfilled the law; but He wasn't saved by the law.
(He was Saved by the Bell: "In that day shall there be upon the bells of the horses: Holiness unto the Lord" (Zech. 15:20).
Where was I? Oh yes, to make his point plain, the Lord explained to His friends that the leaven represented "hypocrisy" (Luke 12:1).
What is religious hypocrisy? Jesus made that clear when he called the Pharisees "hypocrites" (Matthew 23), accusing them of trying to buy their ticket to heaven through their own obedience to the law.
Then understood they how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.
The Pharisees, like religious Lance Armstrongs, thought they could dope their way into heaven.
The Parable of the Bicycle
While we're on the topic of cycling, I'd like to extend the apostle Paul's metaphor regarding this "race" we're in (by the way, check out Clark Burt's modern retelling of Paul's epistle).
There are two points I want to make:
(1) We need to wear our helmets.
I know, I know, bike helmets ruin our well-coiffed hairdos and make us look dumb.
But dumb we are. Alas, Paul said:
Take unto you the WHOLE armour of God . . . . And take the helmet of salvation.
(Ephesians 6:13, 17)
Why does he equate our "salvation" with the helmet?
I think the point here is that our "head" is Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:23); so putting on the helmet of our salvation is about making Christ our Head.
There is no salvation in our biker shorts or jerseys; so we might as well stop looking there for redemption.
(2) We aren't riding this bike alone.
Have you seen the bikes used in the Tour de France? They're pretty expensive; you could buy a car for what one costs.
So what sort of bike are we racing? Is it a tandem bike we ride with Christ?
If you've ever ridden a tandem bike, then you know the two riders must be in sync or they'll crash. So that is an interesting idea.
But I think a better analogy is to picture a child's seat on its parents' bike.
We're riding along with Christ on His bike (not our own) ― and let's not get carried away, supposing we're His partner, pulling our weight, when in fact we are His child.
I mean, if we really think about it, we're not the adult in this relationship; we're not even pedaling the bike (!) ― we're the kid wearing the helmet looking clueless in the child seat.
One day in the future, when we're sitting around in heaven, I suspect many of us will look back on our time here on earth and realize we followed the path of the Pharisees ― thinking we were running this race by our own power and genius, using our muscled thighs to pedal along the straight and narrow path.
(Why else would the angels wear robes but to reveal their toned calves?)
In the Tour de France, the leader of the pack is called the "Tete de la course," the head of the race. It is easy for us at Church to follow the Tete de la course, our priesthood leaders, who we might think are better and faster than we are, draping a yellow jersey on the Brethren.
But Christ doesn't lead as the Tete de la course. Following Christ is not about "keeping up" with Him (we never could); instead, Christ is our Tete not because he's first, but because he's last.
I know that seems odd, because the person who comes in last doesn't win the race, but that is what Christ is doing: bringing up the rear with water bottles for those who are weary and who want to give up, making sure none of His sheep are left behind.
But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.
Look, let's not think we are running a race along the straight and narrow; the gospel is about grace, not performance; it is about endurance, not speed; it is about love, not ribbons.
There's no "last one home is a rotten egg" in the gospel (after all, if the gospel favored those who win first-place, then they alone get the good news; the rest of us would be losers.)
But Christ shows us a better way. The challenge is this: we give lip-service to the gospel but deep down we want to bolster our performance artificially through the "arm [and leg] of flesh."
If we had any other limbs I'm sure we would try to use them, too, to get ahead.
Are we seeking success by juicing the Good News of the gospel with money, control, dominion, status and inequality?
What's the Antidote for Doping?
Christ's cure for illicit, performance-enhancing doping is simple:
But specifically to repent of doing things our way. Repentance is, at the end of the day, just doing things His way.
And what is His way? Samuel the Lamanite tells us in his wonderful address (Helaman 13-15). Let me just quote a single verse from Samuel, who had a hostile audience that trusted in their riches and in their own good works more than in Christ (sound familiar?).
Samuel promised God would restore his scattered sheep this way:
They shall again be brought to the true knowledge
Okay, what is this "true knowledge" and how do I get it? What makes this knowledge "true"?
which is the knowledge of their Redeemer
Ah, there it is. "True" knowledge is knowing our Redeemer.
All this talk about keys and prophets and covenants might be missing the mark a bit, because while priesthood is important insofar as it possesses "the key of the knowledge of God" (D&C 84:19), if priesthood is not dispensing the knowledge of God, and is just being used as a managerial tool to govern the Church, then it is really of no use to us.
and their great and true shepherd
Huh, this is the second occurrence of the word "true." Why does Samuel clarify that Christ is our "true" shepherd? Are there other shepherds out there trying to elbow Christ out of a job?
and be numbered among his sheep.
This seems to indicate that the only way to be numbered among the sheep is to follow the "true shepherd." So why, then, are we so impressed with "hirelings" (John 10:12) when Jesus makes it emphatically clear that:
I am the door of the sheep.
I am the door (!) (see, He repeats himself) by me if any man enter in he shall be saved.
Well, who in blaze's name thinks it's a good idea to not use THE DOOR ― you know, the gigantic gate the scriptures mark with a big neon sign that reads "CHRIST - ENTER HERE."
When the way is so simple, why are so many of us following those who are jumping the fence like wedding crashers, or entering through the window like burglars? According to Christ, they are:
Thieves and robbers.
Well, can anyone explain why we are so infatuated with these hirelings doing parkour around the pen, these thieves? Why are we fanboys and fangirls holding banners for them as if we were greeting the Beatles as they disembarked at the JFK Airport in 1964? Why would Christians listen to anyone that teaches us to use another way, a different door, a secret gate, OTHER than Christ?
What do these popular hirelings have that Christ doesn't?
Doping in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints What is the reason we reject the unleavened Manna that came down from heaven for a bit of buttery baguette?
Why are our lips covered with leaven?
First among those among you, saith the Lord, who have professed to know my name and have not known me, and have blasphemed against me in the midst of my house, saith the Lord.
"But Lord!" we might say at that day, "I needed a dash of legalism in my tea, is that so bad? I wanted your grace but wasn't sure I would get it. So I fudged a bit, relying upon the fact I was not as bad as Billy here, who never paid tithing and who drank too much and who even fooled around with stock day trading (as if that were a respectable job, come on!). Please, I love your gospel, but I feared it just wasn't enough."
Maybe the reason we search the black market of religion for leaven is because we don't fully trust Christ.
And we needn't search for a supplier in a shady neighborhood or in the bad part of town; no, we need look no further than the gleaming halls of the Church for our next fix.
Instead of using syringes to shoot up in our chapels, we'll see how our congregations pride themselves on being "chosen", a kingdom of priests too holy in their ritual purity to cross over to the sinful Samaritan.
Instead of bongs and marijuana we will remember the smell of sweet smoke filling our temples from the incense burned from our self-righteousness, believing salvation was in, and through the One True Church and in following its leaders instead of in and through the One True God and in following His Son (John 17:3).
And at that day we'll have a bright recollection of the way we pitied those poor, amateur cyclists clogging the lane, who rode with training wheels and who struggled to keep upright as we sped past them in the fast lane with broad smiles in the assurance that we were on the Covenant Path ― the paved, smooth expressway reserved for those of us who were righteous enough to stay out of jail and the 9:00 o'clock news ― and since we had covenanted with God what choice did we have, really, but to leave those sinful stragglers in the dust?
Why, they weren't even clothed in the aerodynamic spandex of the faithful!
The Spiritual Side-Effects of Long-Term Doping
Have you noticed the Church is especially good at humble brags and soft boasts, the quiet voices in our meetings describing wayward souls and our relief not to be like them?
I huff that stuff each Sunday. Sometimes I go home with a headache after all the doping.
"Yes, doping isn't great, but it’s for a good cause! Surely a few baseball baptisms and inflated statistics and lying for the Lord and sexual abuse cover-ups are no big deal in comparison to the good we're doing, right?"
"Why shouldn't we cut corners and bend the laws of Christ a little, if it means bringing the Church prosperity and protecting its good name?"
"Yeah, the Church Handbook is filled with leaven, but [shrugging] the Church is not perfect. What's wrong with replacing the emblems of the Lord's supper with a sacrament of steroids?"
Can members use Babylon's toolkit to build the kingdom of the Bride?
All roads in the Church are paved with the good intentions of leaders who think we can be domiciled into heaven by mass sterilization of faith and by quenching our spiritual gifts in exchange for obedience to authority.
When did worship come to mean doping on carnal security? ("Praise to the man": "We thank thee O God for a Prophet"; "Follow the Prophet"; "God bless our Prophet Dear"; "Come, Listen to a Prophet's Voice".)
Obedience is dope.
Obedience to carnal commandments ("the law") becomes the way we believe we’re "winning" through our own strength.
Someone might say, "Tim, what's the big deal? Why shouldn't we shoot up a little? Does it really harm anyone if we pay tithing and don't drink coffee and avoid premarital sex?"
Ah, there it is, friends: do you see the leaven working?
Being tithe-paying, chaste, coffeeless citizens means God is surely impressed with our goodness, right?
The steroids administered by carnal security come with side-effects. We're talking spiritual impotency.
A gospel of works over grace is always lethal to faith.