When the church gives sanctuary to its enemy

“I came to Jerusalem and learned about the evil that Eliashib had done for Tobiah, by preparing a room for him in the courts of the house of God; and it was very displeasing to me. So I threw Tobiah’s household goods out of the room. Then I gave an order and they cleansed the rooms….” (Nehemiah 13:7-9)

My story starts with a dream. It ends with someone else’s dream.

As a rule I don’t dream, and when I do, I usually attach no importance to it. (Good thing the kings in the Bible called for Joseph and Daniel to interpret their dreams; had they summoned me, I’d probably have said, “Dreams are just your mind trying to settle down from a stressful yesterday. Go back to sleep.”)

One hour after waking up, the Lord showed me what this dream meant.

In the dream, I was in a hotel room. As I entered the bathroom, I spotted a hole in the wall. Inside lay a huge boa constrictor, curled up.

I ran to the phone and called the front desk. “Yes,” the clerk said, “there is a snake in there, and that’s his room.  He stays in that room.”

I said, “Well, move me to another room!” At that moment, I spotted numerous small snakes slithering along the carpet. Yikes!

“We’re not allowed to move you to another room,” the clerk said.

As I awakened, I was in the process of applying the ultimate pressure on the hotel: I would call the newspaper and this would make the front of tomorrow’s paper, how a hotel is harboring snakes in its rooms.  No one would ever stay there again.

Wonder what that was all about, I thought as I awakened.

And then, this morning, a friend emailed me.

She and her husband are in the process of leaving their long-time church after years of struggling to bring it alive and make it vibrant.  (They’re laypeople, not ministers.) I’ll call her Rhonda.

Rhonda had read the previous article on this website in which we pointed out that the oldsters in a church do not want the dull, boring services which their actions sometimes produce. We were making the point that leadership has to lead and not ask the congregation what they want (because they rarely know what they want, and even if they do, it’s irrelevant; what the Lord wants is the only issue).

She said it was not like that in their previous church. “Even when the changes were gentle and the needs of the young families were made clear, the older couples made it plain they did not care.”  Rhonda found herself wondering if some of these people actually knew the Lord. Once, when one of them gave his testimony, it was so dull and dry it gave her chills.  “It was ‘I heard a message and came forward’,” she told me.  “These people keep the letter of the law and not the spirit.”

Then, Rhonda had a dream too, one night before mine.

Bear in mind that Rhonda is, in her own words, “loyal to a fault.”  She loved those people in the previous church and even though she felt the Lord’s approval to leave, finally, she was still struggling with guilt.

In the dream, she said, “We hired a consultant to evaluate the church, and she was telling me her evaluation. All the time she was pointing out how cold and nonresponsive the members were, I kept insisting how dear I found them.”

“When I woke up, I had to chuckle because of the irony of learning something in my own dream.  The observations of the dream (that is, what the consultant said) were spot on, yet I was still feeling like a traitor for leaving.”

“My husband pointed out that God was answering my prayers concerning this struggle by showing me the truth.”

The very thing that is killing this congregation, they clutch to themselves and protect.  It’s like they are keeping pet snakes in their rooms.

Nehemiah fought like crazy to get the walls rebuilt around the ruins of Jerusalem. As he rallied the Lord’s people and directed them in their efforts, he was opposed on every side by enemies with names like Sanballat the Horonite, Tobiah the Ammonite, and Geshem the Arab. (See Nehemiah 2:19)

The little Old Testament book of Nehemiah records his long ordeal of leading the Lord’s people in an impossible task against incredible odds, against strong foes, and against all the expectations of onlookers. The crowning blow came when all the work was over, the wall was intact, and the celebrations were done.That’s when the man of God saw the root of much of his problem.

While Nehemiah was out of the country, Eliashib the high priest, who had control over the temple, had taken it upon himself to rent out a chamber in the House of the Lord to Tobiah, to whom he was related by marriage.  The very man who had fought Nehemiah and God’s people on every hand was allowed to move into the Lord’s House!  The ultimate insult.

When Nehemiah returned home and found out, he cleansed the temple himself (perhaps in a manner similar to what the Man of Galilee would do over four centuries later), then ordered workers to cleanse and fumigate the rooms. Later, those chambers were restored to the service of the Lord.

Churches have been known to harbor and give sanctuary to the very enemies that were poisoning their fellowship, undermining their ministers, blocking their obedience, and destroying their usefulness to the Savior.

To the church of the latter part of the First Century, the Apostle Peter said, “The time has come for judgment to begin at the House of God” (I Peter 4:17).


6 thoughts on “When the church gives sanctuary to its enemy

  1. Hey Brother Joe!
    I’m at a church in Dallas today and speaking tonight (but in my hotel room right now). After reading this post and several others you have written recently, I had an odd thought… Here I am surrounded by all these speakers and authors–Beth Moore and Mike Huckabee were earlier today, Dr. Ben Carson is just before me tonight–yet one of the greatest communicators I have read or heard in a decade is the guy who was my pastor when I was in High School. No offense, but I’m almost certain you weren’t this brilliant then. What happened? Ha!
    Love to Mrs. McKeever!

    • Excellent article, Joe! The tricky question, of course, is which ones are the snakes. They can be pretty deceiving at times… And Andy, you have gotten better over the years too!! Love to you both!

      • I always know a snake when I see one, Woods. (smile please.) But recognizing the Tobiahs and Sanballats in the congregation is another matter, huh? Thanks for the note, my friend.

    • Oooh, Andy. Can I bronze that and hang it on the wall or something? — Have Dr Carson’s book “America the Beautiful” right beside me on the table. He’s something, isn’t he? Would love to have heard you there. No one else like Andy Andrews, so you would have been so refreshing. — Thanks, friend. You are the best. Praying for you today.

  2. Dreams….hmmmm.. Although I have pastored quite a number of years,
    I don’t often dream about my work. On one occasion I did have a vivid
    and powerful dream about ministry– the scene was in the hold of a ship
    that was filled with smoke and darkness, I was trying to get people to
    climb the escape ladder to the top and safety. However, as quickly as
    I would get one person going up, there would be another coming down.
    I kept trying to explain the importance of going up, not down— then
    awoke. The powerful analogy is one that I have never forgot and
    moved me to a greater determination to “rescue the perishing”.

  3. What if the “snake” is the leadership? This seems to be partly what “Rhonda” was facing in that the leadership undermined themselves. In my case, I left the church. But at the same time, is even having that leadership “heirarchy” even Biblical? The fact seems to me that, most churches do the EXACT same thing that is one of the big faults of the Catholic Church in putting such supreme “leadership” on the “leadership.” While we preach the priesthood of believers, we turn to our pastors for anything and everything as if they are the one’s who have the supreme ability to communicate with God. Essentially, we’ve take the priest and renamed him, “pastor” or “brother” or “deacon” etc. Maybe part of the fault in the church is that we are so far away from what the Biblical roles of the “leaders” are supposed to be. The words for “pastor” are always said to mean “shepherd.”

    A Shepherd’s job is to feed, nurture, and deliver new sheep. Further, a shepherd keeps them from danger and searches for them. However, a shepherd does not baby a sheep its whole life! This makes for ideal understanding of Hebrews, “Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity.” Okay… so if the “sheep” are supposed to go on to maturity (and have TRAINED THEMSELVES), then why do we have congregations of church goers who are even in their aged years just sitting in the church? Why have they not been trained and taught as children to go out on their own? I not the REAL job of a pastor to teach the congregation to not need them?

    Thus comes the use of the staff and rod (the Word of God) in the training of the lambs WHEN THEY ARE YOUNG. This directly reflects Paul’s teaching to Timothy that the Word of God is good for, “teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Essentially, the “shepherd” uses his “staff” (quite literally for a real shepherd) to whack the sheep back on track when they are straying off the right path and into danger (sometimes gently… for me, historically, usually a good solid whap… I’m hard-headed).

    Frankly, though, it seems to me that the modern church (and by modern I pretty much meen for the last 1800 years) is doing EXACTLY what Paul told Timothy would happen soon (and it did) when he spoke, “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”

    What is the original sin of the Church that holds OH so true today (and has not even been hinted at being remedied)? The idleness of the church goers who sit on Sundays (nothing in the New Covenant makes any day of the week more important than the other), listening to whatever message the supposed “shepherd” is teaching them while not being once directed, nor making effort to go out and feed The Lord’s sheep, clothe the naked, and build His Kingdom.

    (1 Thessalonians 5:14 ) You who are idle in your imaginary Christianity sitting idle in your Sunday services, get up and feed the Lords sheep and obey His commands to loved others as he has loved us!! You who are afraid to go against the “leadership” or the status quo of the church: be strong and take courage. We seek the approval of the Lord and not man for He is with you always to the very end of the age! (Matt 28). You who feel weak; the Kingdom of Heavin is yours; be strong for He is strong for us in our weakness!!

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