1st Commandment: What is a god?

Dice Game - Kim and Denise's Group“You shall have no other gods.”

What does this mean?

“We are to fear, love, and trust God above all things.”

-Martin Luther, The Small Catechism


When God gave this commandment to the Israelites, they were surrounded by cultures who worshiped not only different gods, but many gods. These cultures had gods of the harvest, gods of war, gods of beauty, gods of fertility, and pretty much anything else you could think of. If someone needed help with something, there was a god to cover it. In our culture, here in central Iowa, we aren’t totally familiar with being surrounded by cultures like the Israelites were, so we might think that this commandment is a no brainer. But, when you look more closely at why people worshiped those multiple gods, we may find that this is a little more real than we imagined.

When people worshiped these multiple gods, it was usually when they need something. Maybe they had planted crops and needed lots of food to survive the dry season, “Hello, God of Harvest”. Maybe they’d been a little bit of a jerk to their neighbor so he’s coming at them with a really big stick, “A little help please, God of War!” Maybe they’d been having a hard time with getting noticed by the person who they like, so they call on  the Goddess of Beauty. In any of these cases, people were upset and they were convinced that if this one thing would just go right for them, then they would be happy. In today’s world it’s not much different. When people forget to turn to God for help it’s usually because they are putting their faith into one of the three P’s (Possessions, Power, or Popularity) to make things right again.

As you read the following story about Jeremy, think about what’s important to him, or his priorities, throughout the day.

Jeremy woke up at 7 am, just like every other day. He pushed his way out of bed and went into the bathroom to brush his teeth. As his mind slowly woke up, he realized that his actions last night had put him in quite a hole this morning. Jeremy’s favorite NFL team was playing in the Monday Night Football game. He had convinced his parents to let him stay up and watch the game by telling them that he had all his homework done, which wasn’t exactly true. This meant that now he would have to secretly finish a worksheet for both math and social studies before he got to the breakfast table.

Jeremy scrambled as he got ready, but he managed to get his homework done – although it wasn’t very neat. Even though he had written it all out, his handwriting was so sloppy that even he had a hard time making out what he had written on the page. The toothpaste splatter and water spots all over the page didn’t really help either. A little disappointed in himself, Jeremy rushed to the kitchen with just enough time to warm up a toaster strudel before he would have to sprint down to the bus stop. As he waited for the golden pastry to pop out of the toaster, he squeezed the frosting around in it’s plastic casing. Moving his fingers rhythmically over the frosting packet reminded him that today was the day of band tryouts. He had been gunning for place as first chair trumpet, which he knew would make his dad proud of him and life at home easier. But somehow he had forgotten all about the tryouts until now. Luckily, his tryout wasn’t scheduled until after lunch so he might be able to sneak in a little practice.

After racing to the bus and worrying about when he might be able to find time to practice for tryouts, Jeremy finally made it to class. As pleased as he was with his ability to get his homework done, his teachers confirmed his disappointment with the quality of his work. Even though he was able to turn it in, his homework was sloppy and his teachers reminded him, “Work like this will never get you into the type of colleges you should be in!” He was worried that his teachers might tell his mom about this, and he knew that wouldn’t go over well. He told himself that he wouldn’t put off his homework again. If he could just remember to get it done, he’d get into the right school and everything would be better.

Finally lunch time came. Jeremy ran to the lunchroom snagged the first spot in the pizza line, paid and hurried to a table near the exit for the band room. He rushed through his meal so he could sneak in some practice time. As he shoved pizza in his mouth, the delicious red sauce squeezed out from beneath the cheese and splattered all over the middle of his chest. It looked just like a ridiculous symbol for the worst superhero ever, “Pizza Sauce Boy.”

Jeremy was suddenly really worried what other people might think of him. He thought he might be able to avoid seeing anyone. Most important of all, he would have to avoid Beth, the girl he’d been crushing on for a few weeks now. Today would not be the day to talk to her, but someday the time perfect chance to wow her would come. Jeremy knew life would be a little bit more bearable with a cute girlfriend. So, before anyone could notice the superman sized stain, he slipped into a practice room to warm up for his band tryout.

Jeremy wasn’t very pleased with the way his tryout went, and he wasn’t sure that his dad would be very proud of a son who didn’t live up to the musical expectations he had, but he had more classes to deal with before he could even begin worrying about that. During gym class the teacher announced that today would be flag football day. Jeremy wasn’t the most athletic kid, but at least he could change out of his pizza stained shirt and pretend he was coming out of the tunnel for his very own Monday Night Football appearance.

As much as Jeremy wanted to do well, things didn’t really go his way. Towards the end of class one play really summed up his whole day. He thought he was supposed to be blocking, but apparently the quarterback disagreed. The ball flew through the air, hit him in the back of the head, and sent him tumbling face first right into Beth, the only person he cared about impressing. Beth and Jeremy ended up in a pile on the ground and when Jeremy finally shook off the embarrassment, he looked up he saw blood beginning to trickle out of Beth’s nose. He thought to himself, “Great…just what I needed.” He tried to apologize, but before he could manage to say anything, Beth got up and started running towards the nurse’s office.

It was after school before Jeremy finally saw Beth again. She really didn’t look so bad, just a bandage on her nose and some dark circles under her eyes. In fact, despite the results of his mistake, Beth still managed to look cute. As he stared at his handy work, one of Beth’s friends noticed him. Jeremy realized he would have to say something to her or risk looking like a total jerk. Jeremy walked up to Beth and began stammering out an apology. He noticed that as he spoke Beth seemed to be paying very little attention to what he was saying. Instead all she could was stare at the giant pizza stain on his shirt, which until then he had managed to forget about. After what seemed like forever, Jeremy’s apology ended and Beth said, “Ummm…Thanks…” Jeremy tried to think of something to say, but lately when he was around Beth, his brain really didn’t seem to work. So before he did any more damage to himself or Beth, Jeremy awkwardly turned away. As He walked toward the bus, he swore he heard Beth and her friends laughing.

When Jeremy finally got home, all he could think about doing was sitting in front of the tv and watching a mind-numbing show. He turned on the tv and before he knew it, his mom was calling him for dinner. After dinner, he had just enough time to get his homework done the way he had promised himself earlier. In the last 15 minutes before bed, he pulled out his bible and half read a random passage, and fell asleep before he could even manage to pray.

Do Jeremy’s priorities you wrote down fit into any of the categories we used earlier (possessions, power, or popularity)?

Do you think these bad things for Jeremy to focus on?

Like Jeremy we all go through lives full of distractions. Sometimes these distractions can lead us into worshiping a false idol of possessions, power, or popularity. An idol is anything or anyone we look to with the hope that they would make our life better.

Do you think Jeremy was in danger of worshiping false idols? Why or why not?

When Jeremy put his faith in popularity, or possessions, or power, he set himself up for failure. No matter if he achieved any of his goals, he would always want a little bit more. However, despite Jeremy’s misplaced hope he still tried to worship God at the end of the day.

How could Jeremy re-frame his day so that he only worships God rather than false idols of possessions, power, or popularity?

At our tables we read Acts 17:22-34 and answered the following questions:

  • What do you think people did to worship the different gods in the temples? Why do you think they did it?
  • How do you think the God who made everything differs from the gods made by human hands?
  • How can we share the Love of God with people around us?
  • What gets in the way of God’s love for us?

This week’s small group activity will involve examining our own lives. Tonight we looked at our schedules from the past day, or week and figure out what activity we’ve spent the most free time doing or worrying about. Then, we made up what god of that thing might look like.

The “at home challenge” this week will be to analyze a day (just like we did for Jeremy in the story) to get a realistic sense of what we spend most of our free time on. Then, because worshiping God can be as simple as seeking God out, spend time sharing a God Sighting with your parents at least once, and ask them to do the same. Next week, we’ll talk about what we found out at the beginning of class.

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