The First Commandment reminds us to not put strange gods before the True God. Back in ancient times that may have been an idol made of stone, but today they are a little more deceptive.
If these strange gods were obviously evil they would be easy to recognize. Ugly stone beasts like the pagan gods of old. The obvious idols are money, sex, and power. These have always replaced God in human hearts. There are other, less obvious, gods that we worship. Celebrities, jobs, nations, family and others can all be worshiped. You may know someone who follows all the celebrity gossip, or puts all their time and energy into their work. How about that crazy patriotic uncle we all seem to have?
Other false gods are even less obvious and even more insidious, because they are partial reflections of the real God. Particular churches, pastors, popes, traditions, and worst of all morality. It is more or less easy enough to recognize someone who put their church or church leader in place of God. Many churches are steeped in tradition, which can be a good thing, but if people are more worried about doing things as they have always been done instead of the weightier issues such as mercy and forgiveness, than you have a problem. I have seen many churches try to get rid of this temptation by stripping away all tradition. This seems to create churches separate from history and the past.
Morality seems like such a good thing. In the Bible they called it the law. It is this strange god that is doing the most damage to us today. People are putting their beliefs in how we are to live above forgiveness. By pointing out others as sinners we are able to cast them away and feel righteous about it. What if an openly homosexual were to start attending your church? Would he be welcomed? Or would there be people who couldn’t rest until they had cured him of his sin? What about adultery? If someone were known to be cheating on their spouse, would they still be welcomed? Jesus ate with sinners. He never condemned any of them. He touched them and healed them.
The only people Jesus condemned were the ones who wouldn’t admit that they were sinners. That is the trap of morality. If you can convince yourself that you don’t sin, than you don’t need God. You can do it all on your own. This of course creates very toxic people. People who in the words of my friend Dan, “kill their wounded, and eat their dead.” There is no mercy left in them at all. Woe to you scribes and pharisees.
There is one other strange god that I want to unmask: security. This is the one that if most worshiped in my family. People fear change. They try so hard to save money, vote for the right person, and cushion their lives from the world. Unfortunately, security is an illusion. It is never real. Life will find a way to break through and hit you where it hurts the most. Jesus tried hard to keep his disciples from this temptation. He kept them on the move, kept them poor, and thus dependent on others and most especially on God.
There are many strange gods that we try to put before the True God. They usually seem like good things, but none of them can substitute the real thing. Jesus demanded that we put God at the center of our lives. He did nothing but imitate God, and this is what made His life and teachings so radical. It is scary to follow in His footsteps. It is easier to be secure and moral. Do we do what is easy, or what is right?