It was a long time, twenty years in all, that the ark remained at Kiriath Jearim, and all the people of Israel mourned and sought after the LORD. 3 And Samuel said to the whole house of Israel, “If you are returning to the LORD with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the LORD and serve him only, and he will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.” 4 So the Israelites put away their Baals and Ashtoreths, and served the LORD only. 1 Samuel 7:2-4
On the surface, that sounds like the Israelites finally got it right. Let’s face it. We know they had plenty of problems serving God, so when we read this, we want to applaud or something. Yeah, they did it! But as we keep reading the book of first Samuel, we quickly discover that something is wrong. In no time at all Israel is back at her old tricks. So what happened?
I think the root of their problem is found right here in these verses. Samuel tells the people of Israel to RID THEMSELVES of their foreign gods. But if we read verse 4 again, we see they didn’t quite get it right. It says, they PUT AWAY those idols. They didn’t get rid of them. And believe me, there’s a big difference.
For instance, you PUT AWAY your Summer clothes. You want to use them again next year when it gets warm, so you don’t get rid of them, you just PUT THEM AWAY. I personally have trouble getting rid of a lot of stuff. So many things look so useful. I have a whole draw of breath savers containers PUT AWAY so I can use them for a project. I don’t know what kind of project, but I’m sure they’ll come in handy, so I PUT THEM AWAY until I have a chance to figure something out. It might be better if I’d just GET RID of them. I wouldn’t have them anymore, but then again, do I really need them?
Samuel told Israel to GET RID OF their Baals and Ashtoreths, the gods that were no gods at all. We’re pretty sophisticated these days, so there’s a good chance none of us has any statues that we pray to hanging out in our bedrooms. Even so, I’ll bet we each have at least one Baal or Ashtoreth in a closet somewhere, some foreign God hidden away just in case we want to use it again.
These gods might be of the more obvious kind, like alcohol, cigarettes or drugs. They might come in the form of food, your health, your car, computer or video games. Foul language might even be that god you keep hidden, but you bring out from time to time. And then there are the less obvious gods, the things we believe are the most precious, but can’t possibly be gods, things like our spouse or our children, our job, parents, friends, even our quest for a spouse. Pride, fear and stubbornness could each be called a foreign god. Anything or anyone who gets in our way of getting closer to Christ is a foreign god.
But how do we get rid of these foreign gods?
1. We decide to get rid of them. Joshua told the Israelites, “Choose for yourselves who you will serve, whether it’s the foreign gods from the other side of the River or the gods of the people in this land. As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15) Joshua made a decision to serve the One True God, to get rid of any other thing that might keep him away from Jehovah.
2. We don’t just put them away. Throw away those gods! Get rid of the food that tempts you, give away those movies that aren’t good for you to watch, don’t buy the things you shouldn’t have, get help to get rid of those things that are physically addictive and for the hardest ones, our family and spouse (or the desire to have a spouse), pray daily that God will help you commit them to His care.
3. Don’t get a substitute for God – When you get rid of one god, don’t substitute another one for it. Turn to the One True God. He’s waiting.
4. Get into some sort of discipleship so you can grow to be more like Christ. I can’t say it often enough. If you are really committed to becoming all you can be in Christ, you need to be in a discipleship group of some sort. Sunday School and Bible Study are just two of them. Maybe you’d like to host a small group in your home. Perhaps you have another idea for a small group to help you and others grow. Whatever it is, find a way to learn all you can and then work that information into your life.
5. Finally, get someone to help you! We aren’t expected to do this life alone. Find someone you trust who will remind you from time to time that it’s necessary to completely get rid of the gods, just putting them away is not enough!
Today we witnessed 8 baptisms, 8 people willing to ask for help to get rid of the sin in their life. Rick Warren describes baptism as being the same as a wedding ring. A wedding ring is our sign that we’re GETTING RID of all other dates. Baptism is our symbol that we’re getting rid of all the things that we know cause us to sin.
We’re also going to celebrate 8 people who are making a covenant to be an official member of Sycamore Tree Church. While baptism is the symbol of getting rid of all our sin, membership is the sign that we’re willing to ask for help. By becoming an official member, we give others permission to keep an eye on us to make sure we’re always growing closer to Christ. These folks are also making a commitment to carry out the Core Values, Vision and Mission of Sycamore Tree Church.
These folks have all participated in a membership class. As of today, all of them have been baptized, some at another church and all are willing to make a commitment to getting rid of their foreign Gods and seeking help to continue to walk in the faith. These folks are making a commitment today to membership at Sycamore Tree Church. They committed to a class and spent about six hours learning about Sycamore Tree Church, Christianity and what membership here means; they are committing to allowing other members to be in their business when necessary. They are committed to helping others by serving in the church, and they are committed to getting RID of those foreign gods.