A company held an inter-office softball game every year between the marketing and support staff. One year, the support staff whipped the marketing department soundly, but the marketing department demonstrated how they earn their keep by posting this memo on the bulletin board after the game:
“The marketing department is pleased to announce that we came in second place in the recent softball season, after losing but one game all year. The support department, however, had a rather dismal season, winning only one game.” www.cybersalt.org/ cleanlaugh; www.PreachingToday.com)
It’s amazing how people can be accurate in what they say without telling the truth. Our politicians do it all the time. Their words are accurate, but often misleading. They do it not to offend potential voters, but let me tell you: now is not the time for such nonsense; now is not the time for misleading rhetoric, which seeks to avoid offending anybody at any time.
Now is the time to lay it on the line and say it straight especially for the church of Jesus Christ. Our nation has lost its moral footing as is evidenced by the violence exploding in our cities, schools, and churches; the increasing racism which keeps rearing its ugly head, and the wholesale acceptance of homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
We are on the verge of either a great revival or a moral implosion with devastating results to the religious freedoms we have enjoyed in this country for hundreds of years. So now is NOT the time to be “politically correct”. Now is the time for God’s people to speak up, speak out, and speak clearly to its culture if we want to see a return to the biblical values which made this country great.
Nehemiah faced a similar situation in his day. He had rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem in 52 days (6:15). Then he spent 12 years rebuilding the people (1:1; 13:6). They had committed themselves to the Lord and to full and complete obedience to His Word. Specifically, they promised God that they would not intermarry with unbelievers, that they would keep the Sabbath, and that they would support the house of God (10:28-33).
Nehemiah was satisfied that he had completed the work God called him to do, so he went back to his old job as cup-bearer to the king. Then, a year or two later, Nehemiah asked for a leave of absence to go back to Jerusalem to dedicate the wall (which we read about last week), and to check on their progress. Well, what he saw did not make him very happy, at all. The people had cast aside their commitments to God. They had forsaken their moral foundations and forgotten the God who raised them up again.
If you have your Bibles, I invite you to turn with me to Nehemiah 13, Nehemiah 13, where Nehemiah shows us the kind of action needed to turn a nation back to God.
Nehemiah 13:1-3 On that day they read from the Book of Moses in the hearing of the people. And in it was found written that no Ammonite or Moabite should ever enter the assembly of God, for they did not meet the people of Israel with bread and water, but hired Balaam against them to curse them—yet our God turned the curse into a blessing. As soon as the people heard the law, they separated from Israel all those of foreign descent. (ESV)
One of the first things Nehemiah did, upon returning to Jerusalem, was open the “Book of Moses” and read it to the people. He didn’t share his own opinion or offer his own commentary. He just let God’s Word speak for itself, and it had a profound effect on those who heard it.
You see, the Bible is like a tiger. You don’t have to defend it or explain it. You just let it loose, and it will change lives forever. That’s what happened in Nehemiah’s day, and it can happen in our day too if we just…
STAND ON THE WORD OF GOD.
Just read the Bible and declare it. Just let it loose and let it do what God designed it to do.
In his book, Jesus Among Other Gods, Ravi Zacharias talks about the hazards that plagued the climbers in their expedition to Mount Everest during the spring of 1996. That year, the attempt to reach the summit resulted in a great loss of life.
One of those who died was Andy Harris, one of the expedition leaders. Harris had stayed at the peak past the deadline, and on his way down, he was in dire need of oxygen. Harris radioed the base camp to describe his predicament. He had come upon a cache of oxygen canisters left by other climbers, but he told base camp they were all empty. However, those who had passed by the canisters on their own return from the summit knew they were not empty, but full. So they pleaded with Harris to make use of the canisters, but he wouldn’t listen to them. Already starved for oxygen, Harris continued to argue that the canisters were empty.
The lack of oxygen so disoriented his mind, he continued to complain of its absence even though he was surrounded by a restoring supply. The very thing he held in his hand was absent in his brain and ravaged his capacity to recognize the truth, killing him in the end. (Ravi Zacharias, Jesus Among Other Gods, Word, 2000, pp. 86-87; www.PreachingToday.com)
That describes so many people in our country. Their brains lack the life-giving “oxygen” of God’s Word, and it’s killing them even though they are surrounded by its restoring supply.
Almost every household in our country owns a Bible. There are thousands of Christian radio stations and TV shows, tens of thousands of web pages and blogs, which broadcast God’s Word all over this country every day; and yet, so very few people pay attention. They argue that the Bible is “empty”, that it has no relevance. But if they would only open this Book and make use of it, their starved brains would recognize its power to save.
The Apostle Paul said, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes…” (Romans 1:16).
So that’s where we must begin if we want to see our nation restored. Like Nehemiah, we must put the Gospel before people, not share our own opinions, but proclaim what God has said in His Word.
As our nation faced a world at war, Woodrow Wilson once said, “There are a good many problems before the American people today, and before me as President, but I expect to find the solution of those problems just in the proportion that I am faithful in the study of the Word of God.” (Bible Illustrator)
He looked to the Word of God for answers, and that’s where we must look today, for God’s Word alone has the answer to our country’s problems. God’s Word alone can change the downward trajectory of our nation. God’s Word alone has the power to turn people back to Him. So stand on the Word of God, and then use it, 1st of all to…
CLEAN UP GOD’S HOUSE.
To call the nation’s spiritual leaders to account, and get rid of those things that don’t belong among God’s people. You see, we have to deal with our own sins before we can expect to deal with the sins of our nation. That’s what Nehemiah did.
Nehemiah 13:4-5 Now before this, Eliashib the priest, who was appointed over the chambers of the house of our God, and who was related to Tobiah, prepared for Tobiah a large chamber where they had previously put the grain offering, the frankincense, the vessels, and the tithes of grain, wine, and oil, which were given by commandment to the Levites, singers, and gatekeepers, and the contributions for the priests. (ESV)
The high priest of Israel set up a place for Tobiah to live right in the temple complex! He had married into the priestly family, and he was an Ammonite (2:10, 19; 6:1), an enemy of God’s people.
Now, God’s law was very clear: No Ammonite was to participate in Temple worship; and yet, this Ammonite is living in the Temple complex itself. Furthermore, Tobiah had opposed the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. He was a thorn in Nehemiah’s side the whole time and a general pain in the neck.
So how in the world did he end up living not only in Jerusalem, but in the Temple complex itself?
Nehemiah 13:6-7 While this was taking place, I was not in Jerusalem, for in the thirty-second year of Artaxerxes king of Babylon I went to the king. And after some time I asked leave of the king and came to Jerusalem, and I then discovered the evil that Eliashib had done for Tobiah, preparing for him a chamber in the courts of the house of God. (ESV)
While Nehemiah was gone, Eliashib, the high priest took advantage of the situation and invited his son-in-law to live in the Temple.
Nehemiah 13:8-9 And I was very angry, and I threw all the household furniture of Tobiah out of the chamber. Then I gave orders, and they cleansed the chambers, and I brought back there the vessels of the house of God, with the grain offering and the frankincense. (ESV)
Shaking with anger, Nehemiah tossed out Tobiah’s stuff, fumigated the rooms, and restored them to their proper use. Then he found out why the storeroom had been empty for Tobiah to occupy.
Nehemiah 13:10 I also found out that the portions of the Levites had not been given to them, so that the Levites and the singers, who did the work, had fled each to his field. (ESV)
The people didn’t keep the promise they made in chapter 10. They had stopped giving to support Temple worship. Their gifts would have been stored in that storeroom, but since they weren’t giving anymore, the storeroom was empty.
Nehemiah 13:11-13 So I confronted the officials and said, “Why is the house of God forsaken?” And I gathered them together and set them in their stations. Then all Judah brought the tithe of the grain, wine, and oil into the storehouses. And I appointed as treasurers over the storehouses Shelemiah the priest, Zadok the scribe, and Pedaiah of the Levites, and as their assistant Hanan the son of Zaccur, son of Mattaniah, for they were considered reliable, and their duty was to distribute to their brothers. (ESV)
Nehemiah was a man of action. He not only rebuked the religious leaders; he replaced some of them, and he restored real worship in the Temple. Then he asked God to reward him for what he’d done.
Nehemiah 13:14 Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and do not wipe out my good deeds that I have done for the house of my God and for his service. (ESV)
Now, it may seem strange that a godly leader got angry, tossed a person out of the Temple, and fought with the spiritual leaders. But that’s exactly what Jesus did in His day when He tossed the money changers out of the Temple.
You see, being godly does not mean giving in all the time. It does not mean being a pushover. Sometimes it means taking a stand against evil, wherever it is found, even if it is in the church. And let me tell you: it is seldom a popular stand, especially if somebody’s relative is involved. Yet when we stand against evil, then God stands with us.
Nehemiah stood against the evil in his day. Standing on the Word of God, he cleaned house; he cleaned God’s house, and that’s what we need to do sometimes.
When there is sin in the church, we must deal with it. When a spiritual leader is moving in a direction contrary to God’s Word, then he must be called to account. Church discipline is never fun, but it is absolutely necessary if we’re going to have any kind of an influence in a culture which has turned against God.
This is what church historian, Charles White, discovered when he was studying the history of the Methodist church. In a recent article of Christian History, he wrote:
“When the Methodist movement began to grow, John Wesley faced the problem of dealing with converts who returned to their old ways. Many Methodists came from the lowest social classes, so nothing in their background or environment helped them live the “sober, quiet, godly lives” Wesley prescribed. Their backsliding discouraged those who were trying to follow Christ and gave Methodism's detractors ammunition.
“The solution to this problem came in a way no one expected. The Methodists had contracted a debt to build a preaching house. In an effort to pay off the debt, the leaders volunteered to visit each Methodist each week and collect a penny.
“When they found that it was easier if the people came to the leader, the Methodist class-meeting was born. The people still paid the penny, but the meetings quickly became more pastoral than financial. Leaders used the meetings to instruct members and [to] check up on their spiritual progress.
“Seeing how effective this practice was convinced Wesley that the work of God could not prosper without church discipline. With church discipline, however, Methodism did prosper, reaching almost a million people before Wesley's death.” (Charles Edward White, “Spare the Rod and Spoil the Church,” Christian History, Issue 69; www.PreachingToday.com)
Now, this is exactly what happened in the First Century church in Jerusalem. When God struck Ananias and Sapphira dead for lying about their contribution to the church, Luke, the historian, reported in Acts 5:12 that “great fear came upon the whole church”; but just two verses later he says, “More than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women” (Acts 5:14).
I know it seems counterintuitive;but when we deal with sin in the church, then the church is much more effective in its influence to those who are not yet followers of Christ. So if we want to see our nation turn back to God, then standing on the Word, we must first of all clean up God’s house.
Then, and only then, can we address our national sins. Then, and only then, can we call our political leaders to account. Then, and only then, can we…
CLEAN UP THE WHITE HOUSE.
That’s what Nehemiah did. When Nehemiah came back to Jerusalem, he not only saw Tobiah in the Temple; he saw merchants in the streets on the Sabbath.
Nehemiah 13:15-16 In those days I saw in Judah people treading winepresses on the Sabbath, and bringing in heaps of grain and loading them on donkeys, and also wine, grapes, figs, and all kinds of loads, which they brought into Jerusalem on the Sabbath day. And I warned them on the day when they sold food. Tyrians also, who lived in the city, brought in fish and all kinds of goods and sold them on the Sabbath to the people of Judah, in Jerusalem itself! (ESV)
They were disobeying God’s Law and violating the oath they had made in chapter 10. So what does Nehemiah do about it?
Nehemiah 13:17-18 Then I confronted the nobles of Judah and said to them, “What is this evil thing that you are doing, profaning the Sabbath day? Did not your fathers act in this way, and did not our God bring all this disaster on us and on this city? Now you are bringing more wrath on Israel by profaning the Sabbath.” (ESV)
God had sent Israel into captivity for not keeping the Sabbath (Jeremiah 17:19-27), along with their idolatry. Now, after they have returned from captivity, they’re still not keeping the Sabbath. The political leaders have repealed God’s “blue laws”, and Nehemiah confronts them on it. More than that, he takes action.
Nehemiah 13:19-22 As soon as it began to grow dark at the gates of Jerusalem before the Sabbath, I commanded that the doors should be shut and gave orders that they should not be opened until after the Sabbath. And I stationed some of my servants at the gates, that no load might be brought in on the Sabbath day. Then the merchants and sellers of all kinds of wares lodged outside Jerusalem once or twice. But I warned them and said to them, “Why do you lodge outside the wall? If you do so again, I will lay hands on you.” From that time on they did not come on the Sabbath. Then I commanded the Levites that they should purify themselves and come and guard the gates, to keep the Sabbath day holy. Remember this also in my favor, O my God, and spare me according to the greatness of your steadfast love. (ESV)
Nehemiah has taken a stand on God’s Word against evil, so he asks God to stand with Him and spare him from the judgment that could come on the nation for their sins.
Nehemiah has called the religious leaders to account. Then he called the political leaders to account, as well, and that’s what we need to do sometimes as followers of Christ. Now, we must be careful not to align ourselves with one political party or another. However, we must not be afraid to confront the politicians from both parties when they veer away from godly principles.
I admire the Southern Baptists who recently took a stand in light of the Supreme Court’s deliberation on same-sex marriage. Listen to what Ronnie Floyd, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, said to the convention just a couple of weeks ago on June 16, 2015 (show Ronnie Floyd video clip from www.youtube.com/watch?v=nEtw0gA39eU).
“The Supreme Court of the United States is not the final authority nor is the culture itself. The Bible is God’s final authority about marriage and on this book we stand…”
In that same speech, Dr. Floyd also reminded the gathering of something German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
Then later in the day the Southern Baptist Convention approved a resolution which said in part, “Resolved, that Southern Baptists recognize that no governing institution has the authority to negate or usurp God’s definition of marriage; and be it further resolved no matter how the Supreme Court rules, the Southern Baptist Convention reaffirms its unwavering commitment to its doctrinal and public beliefs concerning marriage…” (“Southern Baptists: Supreme Court is not final authority on gay marriage”, Todd's American Dispatch, June 16, 2015; www.foxnews.com)
Amen! The church needs to speak with that kind of clarity if we want to have any hope of seeing our nation turn back to God. “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil”, so we cannot afford to be silent.
It’s time to clean house! So standing on God’s Word, clean up God’s House; clean up the White House; and most important…
CLEAN UP YOUR HOUSE.
More than anything else, put your own home in order. It does us no good to call our religious and political leaders to account if we do not also call ourselves and our own families to account, as well. That’s what Nehemiah did.
Nehemiah 13:23 In those days also I saw the Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab. (ESV)
This was against God’s law and contrary to the promise they made in chapter 10.
Nehemiah 13:24 And half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and they could not speak the language of Judah, but only the language of each people. (ESV)
None of them could read the Hebrew Scriptures or participate in the Temple Services. Tell me: If a generation is lost to the faith, can there be any hope for the future of that nation?
Nehemiah 13:25-31 And I confronted them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair. And I made them take an oath in the name of God, saying, “You shall not give your daughters to their sons, or take their daughters for your sons or for yourselves. Did not Solomon king of Israel sin on account of such women? Among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was beloved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel. Nevertheless, foreign women made even him to sin. Shall we then listen to you and do all this great evil and act treacherously against our God by marrying foreign women?” And one of the sons of Jehoiada, the son of Eliashib the high priest, was the son-in-law of Sanballat the Horonite. Therefore I chased him from me. Remember them, O my God, because they have desecrated the priesthood and the covenant of the priesthood and the Levites. Thus I cleansed them from everything foreign, and I established the duties of the priests and Levites, each in his work; and I provided for the wood offering at appointed times, and for the firstfruits. Remember me, O my God, for good. (ESV)
Nehemiah is really hot here – cursing people, pulling out their hair, and driving some of them away. He is very concerned about the families in his country. They have married foreign women. They have allowed evil influences into their homes. And now, they’re in danger of losing the faith altogether in just one generation.
They were desperate times; so Nehemiah got desperate in his zeal to clean up the mess, and that’s what we must do if we want to see our country turn back to God. Now, I don’t recommend pulling people’s hair out, but I think you get the picture. Desperate times require desperate action especially when it comes to our own families.
25 years ago (in 1990), Barbara Bush said something in her commencement address to the graduates at Wellesley College that rings just as true today as it did back then. Wellesley College is an all-girls school, and this is what she said to those young ladies:
“At the end of your life you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict, or not closing one more deal. But you will regret time that you did not spend with a husband, a friend, a child, or a parent. If you have children, they must come first. Our successes in this society depends on not what happens in the White House, but what happens inside your house” (Bible Illustrator).
Let me say it again: “Our successes in this society depends on not what happens in the White House, but what happens inside your house.” So clean up your own house, my friends. Get rid of those things that don’t belong, and lead your family to follow hard after Christ.
Don’t do it in your own strength. Instead, do it in His strength. Depend on the Lord. Lean wholly on Him, and He will begin the process of transformation, first in your house, then in His house, then in the White house. It’s our nation’s only hope. Let’s pray…
God Bless America, land that I love.
Stand beside her and guide her
Through the night with the light from above.
From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans white with foam,
God bless America, my home sweet home!
God bless America, my home sweet home! (Irving Berlin)