Saturday, January 10, 2015

An Endless Cycle

                Throughout Israel’s history opponents have come against them, enemies out to destroy them and to take over their lands. Some of their enemies have been the Egyptians, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Philistines, and the list just goes on. Throughout the Old Testament we read of Israel’s battles with these foes. Some were great battles with great victories; some were small battles with great loss. These stories, these written words of Israel’s history are a reminder to us of God’s faithful deliverance for His people. Year after year, battle after battle, God delivered them, took care of them, protected them, and loved them through it all.

                Another constant theme in Israel’s history is their tendency to worship foreign gods. God does a mighty work and delivers them from the hands of the Egyptians, and a few days, maybe weeks later they are melting down gold and bowing down to the image of a golden calf. (Exodus 32:4) God does a mighty work to deliver them and turn them back to Him, but a few weeks, months, years down the road they have slipped back into their old ways and have set up altars, worshipping foreign gods. They put up an altar to Ba’al or Ashtoreth, or some other god made with their hands. They would then be faced with an enemy, a giant who was seeking to destroy them. They would cry out to God. So God would raise up a Judge or a Prophet to turn them back to Him. They would tell the children of Israel to turn back to God, to put away the foreign gods from among them and serve God only.
                Year after year, generation after generation the cycle of idolatry, rebellion, and captivity would come upon them and they would cry out to God for deliverance. I can so relate to the children of Israel, because I am just like them. Year after year I find myself slipping into old habits, old behaviors I no longer want to walk in. I find myself facing the same enemy that I faced last year. I have been battling this enemy daily for years. I go through spurts where I do okay. But then there it is again, facing me from the other side of the valley, staring me down, reminding me that I have fallen once again.
                In 1 Samuel we read about the Philistines coming against the children of Israel. In chapter 4 the Philistines defeat Israel and the Ark of the Covenant is taken captive. In Chapter 5 and 6 we read of how God punishes the Philistines and how they want it gone from them and sent back to Israel. The Philistines hook it up to a cart and send it off to Israel, as far away from them as they can get it. In Chapter 7, twenty years have passed since the Philistines have had the Ark. Another generation has come and gone, and once again Israel has fallen into idolatry. Will the cycle ever end?
                You see, as I was reading through 1 Samuel 4-7 I realized that I have a choice to make, just as the children of Israel had a choice to make. This cycle that I am stuck in will never end until I make that choice and I make a commitment to stick with that choice. We can either continue to live with the idols and false gods we have placed in our temples, or we can choose to tear them down, put them away and live for God and God alone.
   “Then Samuel spoke to all the house of Israel, saying, ‘If you return to the Lord with all your heart, then put away the foreign gods and the Ashtoreth’s from among you, and prepare your hearts for the Lord, and serve Him only, and He will deliver you from the hand of the Philistines.” 1 Samuel 7:3-4
                Every single one of us has a false god living in our hearts somewhere. False gods to me are those things that drain away your time and focus. They are worthless and have no point or value. They do not give you growth, or encourage you in anyway. All they do is waste your time, resources and life. For me this is television. I find myself over and over again falling into the endless cycle of watching and wasting away in front of a TV. Instead of serving the Lord, I am in all reality, serving myself. There is so much more I could be doing with the time that He has given me, but I find myself sitting down in front of a TV wasting three to four hours of my day. (During football season, whole days are wasted!)  I have a choice to make. Like the children of Israel, I have to make the choice to put away the god that is draining my time, my focus and my life, or be defeated by it once again.
                Samuel tells the children of Israel that “if” they return to the Lord with all their hearts, then they will put away the foreign gods from among them. We cannot fully commit to the Lord for change in our lives until we fully commit to putting away those things we know He has asked us to. Let me give you an example. I used to be a smoker. It was something that I battled with for years after becoming a Christian. Year after year I would make a vow to myself that this was the year that I was going to quit. I would do well for a few weeks and then I would find a reason to pick it back up again. Over and over again I would do battle with the urge to smoke. I would use the excuse that my husband still smoked, and it was too hard to quit if he wouldn’t. I found every excuse in the book to justify my lack of commitment. There is no other way to say it then to admit that I didn’t really want to give it up. No excuses, no justification could be given because in the end, the choice to quit was mine and mine alone. The Lord laid before me His desires for my life and health. But the decision to serve Him or my own self desire was in my hands and my hands alone. God does not force us to change, He only asks that we trust Him and obey.
Finally, the time came when I was ready to do what it was the Lord was asking of me and I quit smoking. I haven’t had one in a while, and the desire to smoke is gone. In fact the very smell of it causes me to become sick to my stomach. Occasionally, though, the enemy will try to wiggle back in, but I know that my God has delivered me from the power of its hold over me and I refuse to go back. This battle has been won. I won’t return to the battlefield because my God has given me the victory.
           This same principle must now hold true to the battle that I am facing today. If I want to do what it is that I know the Lord has asked of me, then I must put away this idol that is wasting my life and commit. No more excuses, no more trying to justify my actions, I must commit to serving Him and Him only.  I must be honest and forthright in my words before you and before my God. The reasons that the Israelites kept on the endless Ferris wheel of false gods is because in their hearts they were not fully committed to following the Lord God. The same holds true to us. If we are truly committed to Jesus Christ and following Him then we must also put away from us those things, those gods that we have set up in our hearts and will not let go of. Whatever it is that the Lord has told you to let go of, you must let go. Otherwise we are going to find ourselves upon the battlefield year after year, generation after generation fighting the same enemy again.
        God gives us the way of escape from all our temptations and sins. (1 Corinthians 10:13) But we have to be the ones willing to take the escape route He has given us. It is hard to run a race when we are weighed down with golden calves and wooden images. God has told each and every one of us how to win this battle we are facing today; we must choose to follow His battle plan and to put away those things that are wasting our lives. Is it really that important to us? Is what you are clinging to so much more important than the God who is waiting to deliver you? Is your desire for self so much more important than your desire for God? No more excuses, my friends, my fellow Israelites, no more excuses. We must put away our foreign gods, our Ba’al’s, and our Ashtoreth’s, and we must prepare our hearts for the Lord, seeking and striving to serve Him and Him alone. Even Jesus tells us this same truth when He tells us to “take up {our} cross” and follow Him. (Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, Mark 10:21)

         When we come to realize that the battles we face are of our own making, then maybe we will see and understand that we have gods living in our hearts, and we must choose to put them away. God will not force His will or His ways upon us, we must choose this day whom we will serve. (Joshua 24:15)  We choose to face these enemies over and over again because we choose to go our own way. God has shown us what we are to do, how we are to live, and given us His Holy Spirit to walk it with us. The choice is ours. We can either continue on this endless cycle of sin and rebellion, or we can choose to put away our gods, take up our crosses and follow Him. How you choose to live today is your choice to make. Who do you choose to serve today?